The shadow pandemic of mental health
Throughout lockdown, mental health became a burgeoning secondary crisis, particularly for those who were isolated from their usual community and activities. Welcoming, beautiful spaces like Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses (BPCG), who received a £9,994 grant from The London Community Foundation's COVID-19 funding, provided a haven for local people.
Through volunteering and therapeutic sessions such as gardening, yoga, arts and crafts, music and dance, BPCG builds community networks and fosters belonging; it gives south Londoners a valuable chance to become active in their community and decrease the risk of loneliness and isolation through gardening. This was a particular challenge during COVID-19, when the greenhouses stepped up and served as an open-air therapeutic haven for isolated members of the community.
Group members have witnessed the closing down of important community mental health resources that they previously relied on leaving them with a feeling of having to fend for themselves
The group received funding to pay for Cat, a qualified arts psychotherapist and horticulturalist for their Friday therapeutic gardening group. Cat ran the volunteer gardening sessions at the greenhouses throughout 2020 and 2021, three days a week, providing beneficial activity to between 10 and 20 volunteers per day.
Below, she tells us her story:
'The weekly Friday therapeutic horticulture group has 12 regular members. As members have got to know each other, they feel safe talking about their life experience, and they have been able to listen to and support each other and also to offer support to new members joining the group.
Group members have variously experienced emotional and psychological distress including breakdowns that have involved hospitalisation, complex bereavements, and difficult family relationships. These difficulties have been compounded for some with physical health issues such as diabetes, hearing difficulties, arthritis, cataracts, and broken limbs. Group members have also witnessed the closing down of important community mental health resources that they previously relied on leaving them with a feeling of having to fend for themselves.
During the winter of 2020/21, members were keen to attend even when temperatures were only slightly above zero. Members shared brasier roasted potatoes and chestnuts during this time!
Members said that this regular group was a lifeline, allowing them to find a local safe outdoor space, and with social distancing, experience the companionship and support of others at a time when they would have otherwise been more isolated than ever.'
One member recounted that the volunteer group at the BPCG helped her overcome the fear that she experienced when listening to the news about the pandemic, which otherwise caused her to have panic attacks. Another with a difficult relationship with his partner said it was vital that he had a space where he could get away from the home dynamic and simply relax in nature, with a group that he trusted. This group continues to be greatly valued by many existing members and is now open to new members.
To find out more, head to the BPCG website.