Annabelle Padwick is a professional gardener, well-being practitioner and founder of Life at No.27.
Her first step into horticulture was when she started growing on her allotment in 2015. She was having psychotherapy at the time and "hoping that I could learn some new skills, but also it might help with my mental health at the same time".
She soon quit her marketing career and founded her social enterprise CIC organisation, Life at No 27, which supports children and adults from as young as five by combining horticulture therapy and counselling and "trying to give people of all ages access to mental health support that works".
The organisation receives referrals from the NHS, works with school children and in schools, and has therapeutic sites in Northamptonshire and Wales. Annabelle is fundraising to try and open more sites and operate in more schools.
The project follows a "child-led sort of approach" allowing young people to learn how to grow their own food and "connect with the environment and wildlife".
It runs after-school clubs and liaises with schools to help children with "challenging behaviour, (as much as I don't like that word)", anxiety, and poor self-esteem and helps them stay in mainstream education.
Her biggest goal, she says, is to gain sponsorship from a horticultural firm on an ongoing basis and to garner more general support from the sector as the project may foster a love for horticulture that could blossom into a career.
Regards mental health support within horticulture, more could be done Annabelle says: "I'd be interested to know in just in terms of the numbers of how many organizations in the industry do have a mental health support policy...I think there's definitely value in companies investing in this area".
Annabelle recently spoke at the Lords horticulture enquiry where she argued that "we need to up our game in terms of horticultural therapy", training, defining what is horticultural therapy and of course, funding.
There is an irony in "the amount of people that are isolated as horticulturists within the industry that are struggling with their mental health" which "doesn't add up either with how much in the media we're saying gardening can help".
Getting horticulture on to the schools National Curriculum would also "massively help kids mental health and just the knowledge of where food comes from" as well as offering time outside the classroom.
Annabelle set up Growing for Wellbeing Week (3 - 9 June 2024) to help with fundraising and "where we can really push our messaging on a bigger scale, but also offer resources to... colleges, secondary schools, universities, care homes."
The resource pack offers lots of activities to help teach gardening skills, linked to the National Curriculum and embedded with well-being aims.
With access to mental health services for adults and young people severely stretched, she would like to be able to have more qualified professional councellors and offer a "wraparound service".
The project has a partnership with Prince and Princess of Wales' Royal Foundation which she hopes will help, "if anyone's interested in supporting us then them coming forward."
Annabelle is asking the horticulture industry: "Can you help sponsor our school program so we can go in and deliver really successful, therapeutic, also educational programs that are aligned with the curriculum to support children?"
She admits frustration with the "definite lack of interest, which is frustrating on many levels. But I think there's a lot more industry to do because it makes sense, doesn't it?"
Presenter: HortWeek editor Matthew Appleby
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor