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Volunteering at Grimsby Garden Centre has been a life saver…

The power of nature at work

The last few years have shown the importance of being outdoors and how it can benefit people’s mental and physical health (something we know more than most here at Grimsby Garden Centre).

As a part of NAViGO, we have been lucky enough to become one of the chosen test locations for a nationally funded project to develop green and blue social prescribing across the UK!

From nature walks, gardening, and photography to aromatherapy, football, scuba diving and more – NAViGO have been offering a whole bunch of activities with over 100 service users and members getting involved.

We caught up with NAViGO member Anthony, who has been reaping the benefits from volunteering here at Grimsby Garden Centre.

This story contains references to bereavement, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I had been diagnosed with PTSD after years of counselling and medication for anxiety, severe depression and panic attacks following the death of our son. At the moment, I am unable to work and am a full-time carer to my disabled wife.

“I was at a point where I was avoiding going out and socialising – I felt unable to cope and would panic at the sheer thought of going somewhere. I was worried about making a fool of myself if I had a panic attack in public. I’d go shopping at times when I knew it would be quiet and preferred shops where I knew I could use the self-scanner system so I wouldn’t have to interact with as many people.

“I would even avoid seeing family members at gatherings as I would become anxious. Although my family understood my situation, I felt as though I was letting them down which caused me even further anxiety. The only places I would travel to alone is the pharmacy, Tesco at a push, and our caravan but much preferred it when my wife was with me for support.

“My anxiety often caused me to feel sick and I have been physically sick when travelling to other places, and sometimes even to our caravan if traffic is busy. I’d sometimes have to call my wife who would stay on the phone with me until I made it home.

“I was having thoughts of suicide. I felt worthless and useless. I had problems with nightmares and sleeping. I didn’t try things in case I failed.

“My wife tried to encourage me to have a hobby – she even trying to get me involved with the garden but I just had no interest in anything. I just wanted to be on the sofa wrapped in a thick blanket with my iPad or asleep.

“NAViGO support worker Nikki was working with me and suggested I spend time at Grimsby Garden Centre taking part in the therapeutic horticulture activities. The thought made me very nervous. I was physically sick the first few times I would arrive at the garden centre.

“Since volunteering my wife and I have noticed several improvements in my mental state, anxiety and depression.

Although I still get nervous from time to time going to the garden centre, I very much enjoy my time there and have learnt an awful lot of gardening tips. Dealing directly with the soil I feel is most beneficial – the power of nature at work. I now have an allotment where I grow my own fruit and vegetables after being inspired by the work at the garden centre and have renewed love of gardening.

“My depression is now on a more even keel. I have strategies in place when home and tending my own garden to relax myself and remain calm. My wife has noticed that I am less short-tempered. I still get very anxious at times but have found gardening to be a great release.

“The people at the garden centre are extremely friendly and understanding of mental health needs and help me when I volunteer by placing me in areas or doing jobs that I am comfortable doing, in a suitable environment. On occasions at busy times, I have found I get anxious around lots of people or in a busy environment, so they have allowed me to stay in areas that are quiet away from people. This is so beneficial as otherwise the stress would have put me off going back.

“Overall, volunteering at the garden centre has been a life saver. I am growing in confidence, within my own mental health capabilities. I get fresh air and feel I have achieved something. I feel appreciated and part of a team, which has been very beneficial especially after lockdown which compounded my anxiety by making my safe place a home with just my wife and son.

“I have more confidence, I am sleeping better, and i’m less anxious attending the garden centre. I have made some great friends and have been inspired to grow my own fruit and vegetables.

“Volunteering has definitely made a huge difference to my life. It has helped my family as I am less angry, depressed and anxious and I feel I have another coping strategy to help my mental health.”

You can find information about a range of activities on the NAViGO events calendar from coastal walks to litter picks, community gardening to paddle boarding.

Click here to find out more about NAViGO’s green and blue social prescribing work  – including therapeutic activities at the garden centre – and how you can get involved.