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Celebrating our people – A Project Worker dedicated to improving health outcomes for disabled people through horticultural therapy

Much has been written recently about the healing power of nature. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at Livability Holton Lee, where the Flourish project offers a range of land based activities to disabled adults.

Anna Sweeney, Programme Lead of Flourish, comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge in working with people with mental health illnesses. She has created a range of land-based activities in the grounds of Livability Holton Lee, a wellbeing and discovery centre in 350 acres of lush natural parkland near Poole in Dorset. Anna has recently won recognition at the Livability Princess Royal Awards for staff and volunteers.

Flourish participants come from a variety of backgrounds with a range of mental health issues. ‘The wonderful thing about Flourish is that people arrive on day one just as themselves – no one knows their background, or their history,’ explains colleague Emma Browning. ‘This means that everyone is taken at face value. Away from the judgement of others, people can just concentrate on the activity or task, chat and enjoy the surroundings. It’s a really relaxing, accepting space to just be yourself.’

Anna comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge in working with people with mental health illnesses

Anna brings an understanding and empathy with her to the project. This means there is no ‘us and them’ between her and attendees – everyone is on the same level.

Anna has worked hard to transform the gardens at the centre from a simple kitchen garden to a hive of activity, incorporating wildlife, adventure walks and arts and crafts activities. ‘The emphasis at Flourish is on skill sharing – many of the participants are incredibly talented, so it’s not just me ‘leading’ the group,’ Anna explains. ‘If I research a woodwork or craft project, sometimes a participant will be really skilled in that area – they might be a carpenter or builder in their everyday life. We work together and this gives everyone a real sense of achievement. Everyone’s contribution is valid.’

The Flourish team have also created a productive working garden, which produces impressive harvests of fruit and vegetables. Participants are able to take a modest amount home with them to enjoy, but Anna organised for a high proportion of the food to be distributed locally. ‘We contacted church groups, local food banks and hostels in the area – anyone we think would benefit from our surplus produce. All our fruit and vegetables are organic and we grow a huge variety.’ Anna has forged new links in the surrounding area and this helps participants who may have become isolated to get back in touch with their community.

‘We work together and this gives everyone a real sense of achievement.’ – Anna Sweeney

With Mindfulness classes, run by colleague Emma, on offer as well and plans for an outdoor community kitchen, complete with pizza oven to bake homemade pizzas, the project is going from strength to strength.

Flourish at Livability Holton Lee offers a range of land-based activities to improve the wellbeing of participants. Of those who have attended the project, 97% have reported an increase in social networks and a decrease in social isolation as a result of their participation.


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