Thrive: inspiring positive change through gardening

Thrive: inspiring positive change through gardening

Thrive uses gardening to bring about positive changes to the lives of people who are living with disabilities or ill health as well as to those who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.

Thrive was established in 1979, as the Society for Horticultural Therapy, where it aimed to bridge the gap between the world of horticulture and the world of health. Thrive was founded by Chris Underhill, a young horticulturalist, who wanted to use plants to help people with disabilities, inspired by his work in Africa. Since its inception, Thrive has continued to support and work with a wide range of people, including those who have physical or learning disabilities, people with mental health support needs, individuals who have sensory loss or autism, individuals who have conditions such as dementia, heart problems and diabetes as well as young people with social, emotional, or behavioural difficulties.

In working with people who need support, Thrive adopts social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) approaches, where trained horticultural therapists work with plants and people to improve people’s physical and psychological health, communication, and thinking skills. Such an approach promotes gardening as a safe and secure place where individuals can develop their ability to interact and connect with others and acquire new skills that not only help them become independent but can also be useful for improving their chances of finding employment. Horticultural therapists would develop a specific plan of activities for each gardener to help them improve their particular needs and work towards their goals. The gardening projects and activities can also help foster social inclusion, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and achievement, helping to improve an individual’s self esteem and mental health.

The therapeutic value of gardening for mental health and wellbeing has long been recognised. The term, ‘horticultural therapy’, first appeared in the US in the 1950s, with the practice gradually formalised, while in the UK, STH has been firmly established since the 1970s. Speaking about their work, Julie Jowett, Garden and Client Manager at Thrive says, “A garden rarely has everything neat and aligned in the way that a person living with autism could be expected to prefer, however gardeners who are neurodiverse often enjoy the rhythmic and repetitive nature of horticultural activities such as weeding or watering.  Planning or planting can be a creative opportunity for those who are highly visual thinkers.” She goes on to add that, a task new to Thrive has been wetting the coir blocks and mixing it to create growing media which has proved a popular activity for those who enjoy sensory stimulation.

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Through their work, Thrive continues to create positive changes in the lives of people who are isolated, disadvantaged, vulnerable, or living with disabilities and their inspiring stories stand testimony to their hard work.

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