Using Nature to Support Recovery
“They can express how they’re feeling with no pressure. Doing a task, giving it your
full attention, gives your mind a chance to breathe. It gives you space to think.”
As you possibly already know, Coolmine has a postcard garden featured in this year’s Bloom festival (Phoenix Park, May 31st to June 4th). This is our third year to have a garden feature at the prestigious gardening event and this time round, staff and clients have worked together to create a postcard garden entitled ‘Coolmine Woodland Hug’.
The aim of Coolmine’s Bloom garden is to give a taster of the benefits of horticultural mindfulness that our clients experience, and the long-term positive effects this has on their recovery and mental health. Our horticulturist, Billy Fahy decided to explore the mindfulness benefits of our Recovery Through Nature programme by creating a small, peaceful forest in the middle of the rush and bustle of modern-day life. Our garden features rows of 45 native Irish trees including Birch, Hazel and Alder and we’ll be inviting our Bloom garden visitors to step inside this canopy of trees to experience the stillness and peace of mind that our clients get to enjoy as part of the Recovery through Nature programme.
But what is Recovery Through Nature?
Ten years ago, Billy Fahy came on board as Coolmine’s horticulture tutor. He was asked to introduce clients to gardening and cultivation. As he says, “Immediately the clients soaked up the programme and loved it.” It soon moved from a tiny greenhouse in the carpark to a larger unused field. A polytunnel was funded and two more followed. The same polytunnels now house dozens of fruit and veg crops such as fennel, kale, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The team also grow gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries. 50% of the food that Coolmine Lodge residents eat is grown by their fellow clients on the grounds. Next the clients turned their attention to a walled garden which was overgrown and wild. The garden is now a wonderful display of flowers and plants.
Working with Coolmine Project Worker and Recovery Through Nature Co-ordinator, Joe Buckley, a Recovery Through Nature programme was officially introduced to Coolmine in 2014. As Joe explains, “The main aim for introducing Recovery Through Nature was to introduce an activity that prosocial intervention that allows service users to participate in society. We also felt that the intervention was helpful for those who struggled in the initial stages of treatment, this was evidenced after the first year with a decrease in those leaving treatment early.
The programme allows service users to experience nature in a different way by being an active agent in meaningful conservation work in local communities green spaces, parks and beaches. All work is done in the volunteer spirit. It is through ‘giving back’ that participants start to connect back to society and get actively involved in their communities again.”
To date, over 3000 client volunteer hours have been spent on this programme and retention rates for those involved with Recovery Through Nature are close to 75% which is noticeable higher than those who do not engage with the programme. Some of our previous projects include planting over 40,000 flower bulbs and constructing and developing a community allotment in Finglas.
“There are many clients who have never done horticulture before who take to it like ducks to water.” Billy says, “It encourages healthy eating and is a source of pride for our clients as they grow fruit and veg and get to see hard work pay off.” And there’s huge mental health benefits to the programme also. “The clients are working together and talking. They can express how they’re feeling with no pressure and the fact that they are concentrating on what they’re working on gives their mind a break. Doing a task, giving it your full attention, gives your mind a chance to breathe. It gives you space to think.”
Several people who have participated in the programme have completed Horticultural training schemes and placements, some now work for the forestry service and others have gone on to start their own landscaping companies. Recovery Through Nature programmes run in all three of our services – Coolmine Lodge, Ashleigh House and Coolmine House.
Do yourself a favour and give your mind space to breathe at our ‘Coolmine Woodland Hug’ garden at Bloom or – even easier – get outside. Get out amongst nature. Leave the phone at home and go for a walk. Rediscover what a clear mind feels like.