Archive for April, 2007

The UKs National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) amended its depression and anxiety guidance on April 25th 2007. This was in response to safety information issued in May 2006, by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for prescribing Venlafaxine/effexor.



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Yet another article espousing the benefits of gardening to vulnerable people, in this case young people with learning difficulties – Growing into the role, in the SocietyGuardian newspaper.

This article caught me eye because it looks at the economic viability of these projects. This is interesting in the wider context of increasing numbers of people needing the support of ‘social care’ type organisations, an increasing strain on budgets and an increasing emphasis on projects having to demonstrate that they ‘work’. The latter whilst unequivocably being a good thing, in reality means that projects have to be ecomically viable (which often means cheapest, rather than best value/best quality) as well as having to spue out increasingly complex (perhaps meaningless) outcome indicators, with the actual task of collecting these statistics munching up precious time and resources…

There is also a huge emphasis on getting people into work – with an increasing backing and funding for projects that can ‘prove’/demonstrate that their punters get grafting.

The article neatly shows that horticultural therapy type projects are able to compete with the best of ’em in terms of society’s definition of what helps the ‘vulnerable’…

Growing into the role

Go Gardeners is leading the way when it comes to helping young people with learning disabilities

Mark Gould
Wednesday April 25, 2007
The Guardian

Employees of Go Gardeners tend the green spaces of Ravenswood Village, a sprawling community of self-contained houses and flats for people with learning disabilities in 120 acres of verdant Berkshire. And the social enterprise company, which employs nine young men and women with learning difficulties, is providing a profitable solution to a growing problem that has massive social and economic implications.

Many hundreds of thousands of people who, even a decade ago, would have died as children are now, thanks to medical science, living long into adulthood.

There are around half a million people with learning disabilities in the UK; many require complex and expensive care which the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities estimates costs £4.6bn a year. Around 65,000 of these people are young adults and this age group is rising by 1% every year.

But for all the good work of some local authorities, and companies such as Go Gardeners, to ensure young people with learning disabilities are fully integrated into work, friendship, relationships and gain a degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency, there are thousands for whom the transition from childhood to adulthood simply means that the name of the organisation “caring” for them changes. Go Gardeners addresses a crucial aspect of this – and ticks all the right boxes. It was set up a year ago with a view to providing genuine paid income for people with learning difficulties. It won the tender for gardening and landscape maintenance for Ravenswood in open competition against other landscape gardening companies.

Stuart Rowbotham, head of learning disability services at Wokingham borough council, Berkshire, will relate some of the success stories when he speaks today at a conference in Birmingham hosted by Dimensions, one of the UK’s largest providers of support for these young people.

Rowbotham says of Go Gardeners: “They have a real sense of achievement. It’s great for self-image and inclusion as they all contribute to society and pay taxes. As all nine employees were previously in day centres, the scheme is great because we don’t have to pay for support at the time they don’t need it.”

In Wokingham alone, 22 children every year transfer from children’s services to adult social care, while just three adults a year leave either because they have moved out of the area or because of deaths. Rowbotham says that in an average year his client base grows by 18 people with very particular disabilities who require extra services and support that is expensive.

“It’s really challenging for the social care economy,” he says. “We have 460 clients on our books and a budget of £19m. The client base is growing every year and we don’t get a yearly uplift of funds to reflect that. So it’s about how we can make the money and resources that we have got go further.” Care services rely on costly locum or agency staff with, sadly, variable quality. Wokingham has set up an in-house social enterprise employment agency, Support Horizons, which has 50 freelance general social care staff on its books and people with learning difficulties on its board of directors.

The company eliminates the fees of commercial agencies and ploughs any profit back into services.

Local authorities also need to change their usually somewhat frosty relationships with the services providers into one where they actively share responsibilities for keeping a lid on budgets.

Wokingham works with New Support Options, a company providing support for people with learning difficulties in the Berkshire area. Rowbotham says: “Commissioners like me have kept ourselves at a distance from providers. We pass a budget to them and they have to tell me exactly what they are spending it on. Sometimes there is a sense of mistrust on the part of commissioners when the providers ask for more. Now we work with NSO on a shared budget basis and have been able to drive down costs.”

In some cases, totally redesigning a client’s care package has seen amazing cost reductions of up to 50%, but more commonly, Rowbotham says, redesigns deliver savings of between 10% and 20% and clients have a service that reflects their specific needs as young adults.

When two young men decided to share a flat, they eliminated the need for two sets of 24-hour support workers. In another case, a young man who had been living in residential care as a child – which cost £123,000-a-year – is now cared for by NSO at £60,000. As Rowbotham explains: “We asked him: ‘How do we work with you within your budget to meet your needs?’ Costs have come down because he just pays for the care and support he needs at the time he needs it, rather than round-the-clock, whether he needs it or not.”


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Another writer’s take on why gardening is so great – it makes us ‘better’ people! Not better than others (!!!), but enables us to become more than we were – to experience life more positively – in a fuller and more open way..

Particularly beneficial and uplifting to people who have a history of feeling crushed by ‘life’….

Anyways, this article talks about gardening improving the lives of ‘bad lads/lasses’ and I believe the worker describes the achievements and outcomes in a most inspiring way…

“People in authority sometimes claimed that I bribed my ‘wards’ and that I must be doing something illegal. They couldn’t understand how it was that these hoodlums could learn the scientific names of hundreds of plants, that they actually learned to love to read, to love to garden. But I didn’t bribe the boys; I just set up a garden with a healing atmosphere and then let it work its wonders.

The right garden is a magical place. Plants are not judgmental. You take good care of them and they thrive. In the garden our minds are free to wander, to daydream, to relax. Good things happen in good gardens”
Tom Ogren

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BTCV are running a scheme for people called a ‘green gym‘.
They give people the chance to ‘work out’ in nature with conservation or gardening work.

So an opportunity for those who haven’t got a garden or don’t feel up to tending a whole plot on their own. Also seems an alternative to attending projects that are solely aimed at ‘mental health’ people. Although of course specialist projects are needed and are a life saver for many, sometimes it is refreshing for someone to be part of a group where membership is based on something other than ‘craziness’ – just people who wanna get fit and love a bit of nature…

Social workers and other professionals involved in drawing up Community Care Plans/support plans should be encouraged to think outside the box. I, personally have trained mine to realise that ‘care in the community’ does not mean re-creating institutions in the community.


Green gyms are held once a week, you will receive teaching and support from a trained leader and groups are open to all. It don’t cost a penny neither!

A Green Gym group is taken through warm-up and cool-down exercises. Helping to avoid aches and strains and minimising the chances of developing gardener’s hunch back..

Green Gyms have also been proven to work – increasing physical, mental and social well-being. Research has been carried out at Oxford Brookes University and details about the positive outcomes for green gymers can be found here. There is also a graph proving that gardening is much better than rubbish aerobics!! Or as they put it – working out in a green gym burns a third more calories than a step aerobics session.

There is a list of available groups to attend on the BTCV website…

What a great idea!

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Apologies for the cheesy title, any-one who reads this will know that my titles are much more sophisticated and considered and high-brow and stuff but it is from a BBC article.

Of particular interest to me were comments from a guy called Gavin who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. His comments reminded me that whilst experiencing the ‘symptoms’ of a mental health problem is terrifying and horrific, it is often the consequences which accumulate over a number of years that break your spirit.

Me and Gavin reckon that gardening is a great antidote. It provides a wonderful opportunity to regain a sense of control over your surroundings and to feel a proud sense of accomplishment.

But I won’t put words in Gavin’s mouth and so I hand over to the BBC:

“Since he had his first schizophrenic episode as a young PHD student 20 years ago, Gavin has rarely worked.

He said the Battersea project, run by the charity Thrive, has offered him new opportunities of tackling his mental health problems.

“There is always the opportunity to talk to staff about personal issues.

“But I guess the focus is on the gardening and it being therapeutic.

“Most of the gardeners, like me, look after a patch of garden of their own and you do get a lot of satisfaction in doing this.

“It is a nice place to work and I think doing this has been one of the most useful things that I have done as far as helping my mental health goes.

“I get a sense of achievement from my gardening and most people can feel that, whether it is from growing tomatoes or bulbs.”

He added that this sense of achievement was important to people like him whose illness had meant they had often had to drop out of things in the past.”

Full article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5083742.stm


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Well ain’t it just lovely weather….. yeah yeah, but I want rain.

To avoid social ostracisation, as people look at me worried as though the power of my thoughts may induce a shower – I quickly qualify that I only want it at night. I agreed with Beener’s mum (who is an amazing gardener) that we would like to order a medium shower between let’s say 1am-4am…

I can’t believe it- I am moaning about the weather … I spent all winter dreaming of sunny days up the allotment and then when it happens -I whinge!!!

Sunny days have arrived too early – I am usually cold-ish and wet and moaning at this time of year … It is most confusing for me!! But its not me I fear for – I will adapt, its the plants I worry about…

As you can see I am a true Brit – I can hold my own in any conversation about the ‘state of the weather’!

So the water butt is looking very thirsty, – its only purpose since we proudly positioned it, is to taunt me as I trudge up to the water tap to fill my watering can for the umpteenth time….

I have stopped surfing weather websites and watching the tv forecast because despite numerous reassurances from them that we will have showers – nothing.

So as you can imagine much of our visits to the plot involve mass watering sessions. I quite like watering plants but its all a bit frenzied at the moment as newly planted things and seedlings in the greenhouse look at me and gasp ‘I’m shrivelling, help me’.

The top few inches of our clay soil is ridiculously parched and baked. However as we have clay soil, which is great for water retention, the ‘soil’ below that is nice and wet still. So could be worse and the moisture down below will encourage the roots to grow – making for sturdier and stronger plants.

So the seedlings of broccoli, sprouts, strawberries, poached egg plants and corn flower that we have planted out in the last couple of weeks are on emergency watch. We are watering them copiously every few days. This is alongside the fruit bushes and the potatoes and the onions and the greenhouse seedlings. This takes a fair bit of the allotted allotment time. They need to be thoroughly soaked and flooded (a proper scientific technical term there..), rather than little and often, or else we risk the plant roots staying in the upper layer of the soil.

We have further developed the fruit cage – we got our mitts on some scaffolding netting and have sides all around our fruit cage.

We will definitely definitely put the roof on very very soon its just we’ve been a little bit busy watering and weeding and its ever so hot…. In the mean time the fruit cage looks very professional and it is a very nice blue colour. But like our so far redundant water butt it doesn’t fit its purpose – ie keeping the birds out, what with them being able to fly. So far we have been lucky – no damage. My working theory is that the dense blue colour is not attractive to the birds so they are not interested to investigate further. There aren’t really any blue natural buds/fruits for birds to munch on. Although I’m sure once one bird spies the feast, we could be in trouble…

Anyways perhaps I should spend less time discussing the merits of my ‘scientific’ theory and more time constructing the roof.

Another big taker uper of our time is weeds – couch bloody grass, flippin brambles and our newly emerged resident – blinkin bind weed. Although I am a chaotic gardener in oh so many ways, I have the kind of anxious (some might say anal retentive) mind that will scour the land honing in on the smallest transgressor and eradicating quickly and with no mercy.

We have planted numerous herbs in our aptly titled herb garden – including lavender, sage, marjoram, lawn chamomile and mint. We have thyme and dill coming on in the greenhouse and will continue to keep our eye out for herb opportunities. Beener recently attended a church coffee morning much to my amazement – but then she explained why – they are excellent source of cheap/reasonably priced plants. Car boot sales, jumble sales, keep your eyes open… And of course many herbs can be propagated from cuttings and lifted and divided from various other sources…

All in all – we are very pleased with how things are progressing and we can only report two casualties – some rosemary and a bamboo – which I regret to inform were due to watering negligence. It took me a fortnight to accept that yes I really do need to be watering shed loads even though it is April. A reminder to ‘garden by the weather and not by the calendar’….


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Not being a religious person, nor one who celebrates Easter I spent a lot of this weekend up the allotment. It was wonderful, warm and peaceful.

One of our friends very kindly spent his good Friday loading up a big trailer of manure and met me up the allotment.

When I arrived there was nobody there. I was glad of this as I felt really guilty for having such a mountain of manure.. I wanted to quickly get in and get it on the plot.

We all have the same problem, up our allotments, crap soil and all desperately need manure.  I am very lucky to have a friend who is friends with a guy who has a large supply of manure.  We are able to get it free, just have to pick it up. We usually do this in a large builders bag. The thing is I know everybody on the allotment needs as much manure as possible. We have left the other plot holders small piles and will try to give them some each time we pick some up, but its not enough to make a difference, we all need shit loads!. I would love to be able to get them all more free manure but its a bit cheeky if I tell them I can get it as its only because my friend is good friend with this guy who has the manure. I don’t even know the guy, so can’t go asking if he would mind supplying all of us, as he usually sells it like a lot of farmers/stable owners.  Anyways what I’m saying is I very quickly shovelled the manure onto the plot and saved a load in a wooden crate that my friend had picked up, ready to give to the other plot holders. Not before two lovely ladies appeared and both commented on our lovely manure as if it was a huge chocolate cake: ooh that looks lovely, smells wonderful. I felt really greedy with my manure mountain, those two ladies are first on the list for a visit from the poo fairies in the morning.

We already have put lots of manure on our soil but it still needs loads more, we are so lucky to be able to have a free supply but I’m starting to feel a little bad for having it……Night time muck spreading is in need I reckon. And continue to leave as many piles as we can spare for others in need.

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