The project began last year when Blackpool Carers Centre was deciding what to do with a small piece of wasteland in their grounds. They soon hit on the idea of a project for carers to turn the redundant patch of ground into a communal garden. The project would provide carers with an opportunity to get some much-needed respite from the pressures of caring at home, and out into the fresh air where they could meet other carers and chat over a spot of gardening.
The carers are all people devoting many hours a week, unpaid, to the care of a family member with a long-term illness, disability, mental health problem or substance addiction. Many juggle their work with caring, while others care round the clock for a loved one. The pressures of having to care for a loved one are immense and over time can lead to stress, anxiety and depression if carers fail to care for themselves by taking a break. The garden project provides a calming communal space where carers can chat, helping to reduce isolation as well as giving them a sense of satisfaction and purpose outside their normal caring role.
Ann Hardisty is the Parent Care Administrator at Blackpool Carers Centre. In just a few short months she has seen the huge health and wellbeing benefits for the budding gardeners as they escape from the pressures of home for a few precious hours to dig their vegetable patches, planting everything from peas, beans and tomatoes to leeks and carrots.
“It’s so pleasing to see how our carers have started to transform a neglected patch of scruffy old wasteland into something they can all share and enjoy. Many have no experience of gardening whatsoever, and it’s wonderful to see the benefits to their general wellbeing as well as the genuine pleasure they get from working on the garden, come rain or shine.”
Beccy is an adult carer who has been accessing support from Blackpool Carers Centre for about three years. She cares for her 18-year-old daughter. Explaining why she loves coming to the garden project, she said:
“I find it therapeutic and am really look forward to seeing the garden completed. I think it’s a fantastic idea for both carers and the people they care for to get involved. It’s a great learning experience, but also fun and a safe environment for all.”
Rachel, a mother caring for her 16-year-old daughter Sophie who has non-verbal autism, agrees.
“Being at the carers centre garden is such a calming and relaxing atmosphere for myself and Sophie. We don’t have a garden at home, so coming here gives us that carefree environment that benifits us both in different ways. Sophie loves the garden, looking at the colours, smelling the flowers. There are so many sensory opportunities keeping her calm and it gives us a lovely bonding experience to share together. And I get to benefit from the garden as an escape from the worries and stress at home. It’s a fun, safe space to come and chill with no noise, people staring, or making judgements”.
The health benefits of gardening have long been understood and are now gaining greater prominence among health professionals. That’s why long-term Carers Trust supporter, the National Garden Scheme, has described gardening as ‘A Path to Health’, making it its theme for this year’s Gardens and Health Week which is running this week up to 19 May.