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Berkshire Wildlife Trust opens therapeutic community wildlife garden in Thatcham to boost mental health



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A new wildlife garden has opened in Thatcham to improve mental health and help wildlife.

The community orchard has raised beds and plots which are open to all to grow flowers, vegetables or even herbs.

The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has created the garden at its Nature Discovery Centre as a part of its Engaging With Nature project.

The garden is to be a place to enjoy and get back to nature. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118241)
The garden is to be a place to enjoy and get back to nature. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118241)

The interactive outdoor space hosts a number of flowers, already growing, as well as two flower beds made by members of environmental volunteer group Bicester Green.

The beds are made of reclaimed scaffolding planks, one lower to the ground for children and one at a height accessible for wheelchair users.

There is also a mud kitchen for children and a sensory garden on the cards.

The flowerbeds are host to a variety of flowers and herbs. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118239)
The flowerbeds are host to a variety of flowers and herbs. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118239)

Engaging With Nature project officer Carrie Starbuck said: “Gardening is great, it's gentle and it’s a good way to connect with nature and other people, all of which helps our wellbeing.

She added: "We also want people to decide what they want to use the garden for – if they want to grow carrots or herbs they can.

“As the garden evolves it will be really cool to see what people bring to it. We'd like to have a mud kitchen for kids, and a sensory garden as well, for example."

The Engaging With Nature project started in 2017 and has worked with local charities such as Eight Bells for Mental Health and Carramar House.

Carrie Starbuck in the new wildlife garden. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118232)
Carrie Starbuck in the new wildlife garden. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118232)

Eight Bells for Mental Health co-ordinator Kathryn Dundas said: “We see the positive impact of Engaging With Nature throughout the sessions; some people arrive and, for whatever reason, they're feeling quite low and you'll literally watch that person blossom throughout the session and start to engage with others around them, take part in the activities, and that person when they leave is very different to when they arrived.”

The 10-week programme will use a blend of nature therapy, horticultural therapy and expressive arts to help improve mental health.

Participants can take part in a range of activities from creating hedgehog homes to eco-art therapy and music in nature.

There will be plenty for people to do thanks to the volunteers. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118243)
There will be plenty for people to do thanks to the volunteers. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118243)

Gill Marshall is a volunteer with BBOWT and has helped establish the garden and called the project “rewarding”.

She said: "I've worked nine-to-five for years. I had a breakdown in May due to work and decided now was the time I would do something I wanted for myself, which was volunteering in nature.”

Carramar House resident Carol said that the project gives her a sense of achievement.

The community garden is now open. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118237)
The community garden is now open. Picture by: BBOWT. (54118237)

She said: "I struggle and I tend to stick to one or two people because it takes me ages to get used to people, so I love it.

“If I'm feeling low it gets me out of the mood, and I've achieved something at the end of the day."

Not only have the volunteers planted the flowerbeds with species that are useful to pollinators, like mountain bluet, foxgloves and purple coneflowers, they have also adopted a ‘no dig’ policy which aims to not disturb worms and other organisms in the soil.

To get involved, contact carriestarbuck@bbowt.org.uk



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