Redhall Walled Garden – A Place to Grow

Earlier this month I visited the Redhall Walled Garden, a project operated by the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

The 18th Century gardens are used by the charity to offer training in horticulture, conservation and life skills for people with mental health problems.  SAMH have been running the project for 27 years making it one of their longest running initiatives.

At any one time, around 50 service users from the Edinburgh area work at the gardens.  Some undertake outdoor work learning about horticulture and conservation while others learn practical skills in areas like IT, administration and mental health awareness.  The trainees come from all kinds of backgrounds and different experiences of mental ill health.

During the visit, I was struck by the approach of the project which places individual trainees at its heart.  There is a real sense of freedom with a flexible range of activities that trainees can assist with.  At the same time, there is no pressure on people to discuss their problems until they feel confident enough to share their experience.  The project provides a route for recovery at each individual’s own pace.

Speaking to trainees during the visit, it was clear that the Garden helped in two key ways.  On a practical level, the trainees were able to learn new skills and take responsibility for the upkeep of the gardens. The gardens are open to members of the public who can buy a stunning variety of plants.  The involvement of the general public gives the trainees a sense of responsibility and pride in being able to give something back to the community while also helping to dispel the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds issues of mental ill health.

On another level, working in the gardens gives trainees a space where they can learn to deal with the challenges posed by mental ill health by.  There is significant evidence to suggest that work in natural environments is invigorating and has positive benefits for mental health and promoting healthy lifestyles.  By encouraging the trainees to be open about their experiences, the gardens help to build companionship and friendship.

Through the approach of the project, trainees are encouraged to work through the issues that they face in their lives in a supportive atmosphere.  At the same time, the garden is not an isolated community.  It looks outwards and welcomes the wider community in helping to inform and educate people about mental health.

The next open day at the gardens will take place on Sunday 27 October between 12-5 with a Halloween themed day aimed at children.

I am grateful to team leader Jan Cameron, the staff and trainees for welcoming me to Redhall to find out more about this oasis of calm beside the Water of Leith and would like to wish the project continuing success.