Flower power is route to health and employment

Issue date: 26 January 2012

Organic Routes Polytunnels

Senior occupational therapy lecturer Jon Fieldhouse from UWE Bristol is leading an evaluation of South Gloucestershire's Organic Routes horticultural vocational rehabilitation service for mental health service users.

Organic Routes is a partnership between the Avon & Wilts mental health Partnership (AWP) and local horticultural social enterprise Organic Blooms. The partnership, funded by a grant from the Department of Health, aims to help mental health service users gain employable skills.

Originally designed to be a one-year initiative, Organic Routes has delivered beyond expectations for Paul North, manager of South Gloucestershire's Vocational Services team, and Jo Wright, director of Natureworks/Organic Blooms. Paul approached UWE's occupation therapy department at UWE as he knew Jon Fieldhouse had undertaken previous research in a similar area. The project has worked with 16 service users over 18 months, establishing work placements over two growing seasons. Ten people have gained qualifications, six have moved into paid employment and three are in industrial placements.

Jo explained, “The project is perfect for helping service users find their feet in the workplace again as with our industry there are a wide range of skills to be sought. Although the majority of the work is quite labour intensive we also deal with customers, have business admin to do as well as support roles and we encourage participants to get involved in all areas of the business.”

The evaluation uses a co-operative inquiry approach which aims to collectively create a learning history of the project's life and achievements which all stake-holders – trainees (service users), hands-on horticultural and mental health staff, and managers – can contribute to. This involved holding three workshops in December and January run by Vanessa Parmenter, Alice Hortop (also Senior Occupational Therapy Lecturers at UWE) and Jon.

Jon says, “I've been involved in social and therapeutic horticulture for about fifteen years. It's a powerful therapeutic and training medium that's rapidly emerging across Europe. It's great to be able to work with local mental health service providers – and with Vanessa and Alice – to evaluate the Organic Routes project. We have a growing core of interest and expertise within UWE in using these action inquiry methods, which seem to be valued by all participants.”

Paul North commented, “Everyone involved in Organic Routes has been aware of the impact it has had on people's lives so I was really keen that the lessons learnt in the project were evaluated more fully both for our own understanding and to share with a wider audience. We are really passionate about how we can develop partnerships to create more opportunities for service users to gain experiences that can boost confidence and reduce exclusion. It's great we've formed this partnership with UWE as successful partnership working has been key to everything.”


Editor's notes

Co-operative inquiry brings people together to learn from each other's experiences on the basis that dialogue about strengths or successes is illuminating and transformational for the project teams that engage in it. It focuses on 'whole systems thinking' and actionable learning, and the UWE OT team will be producing a report for the project and for wider dissemination.

For more information on Organic Blooms visit http://www.organicblooms.co.uk/

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