Cultivating good mental health

More than 120 business leaders were gathering today to launch the Cumbrian ‘This is Me’ campaign on mental health in the workplace. Mary Houston, general manager of the Kendal-based Growing Well charity, explains how the organic farm at Low Sizergh can help.

First published in The Westmorland Gazette, February 2019

Look around your office or workplace and it’s likely that one in four of you have been affected by conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress in the last year.

Today’s launch in the county of the national ‘This is Me’ campaign – which aims  to break the culture of silence around mental ill health by supporting people to tell their stories – is a welcome addition to the growing conversation around mental illness and wellbeing.

Slowly the stigma is being lifted – but there’s a still a long way to go.

Here at Growing Well we’ve been working with people living with and recovering from poor mental health for more than 14 years. We provide opportunities for more than 100 people a year to volunteer in our organic growing and catering business, and acquire vocational skills and qualifications. We provide a safe, supportive working environment to nurture mental health recovery, working with people on a weekly basis, sometimes over years, to help rebuild a sense of purpose, to engage in meaningful and fulfilling activity and build hope for the future.

For many the clear end goal is to build the skills and confidence to go back to work – and last year we introduced new, focussed Return to Work courses that have enabled more people to return to work more quickly.

For many people, recovery is a lifelong journey.

The good news is that our work has been found to be extremely effective, in both formal audits and in our annual survey of volunteers. Last week we were pleased to welcome Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron back to the farm, who praised Growing Well as “one of the most effective mental health charities I have ever come across”.

Our 2018 feedback found that 100% of volunteers who took part in the survey felt Growing Well had helped them achieve or work towards their goals, with 86% saying Growing Well was directly responsible for improvements in their mental health.

The huge impact our “excellent and supportive” team have on people’s lives is summed up in comments such as “Gives me a reason to get out of bed”; “gives me the chance to be myself and feel that is enough”; “It’s given me the confidence to integrate back into a social group and work towards getting back into paid employment.”

“It’s given me the confidence to integrate back into a social group and work towards getting back into paid employment.”

GROWING WELL VOLUNTEER SURVEY 2018

The other outcome of all this work on the farm is 15 tonnes a year of fresh, local, organic fruit and veg. Under our “Crop Share” scheme more than 50 local supporters receive a weekly bag of fabulous seasonal produce. This summer we will be expanding the scheme with 30 more bags a week available.

The produce also provides 3,000 volunteer lunches a year, freshly prepared and cooked on site in our new catering unit. Last year we introduced a new summer salad scheme, and we supply wholesale customers such as Low Sizergh Barn and Cafe, Westmorland Services and Kysty Café in Ambleside.

Like most charities, Growing Well faces funding challenges. If you are only vaguely aware of what we do, you might assume we are an organic veg business with a social mission to employ people struggling with mental health.

But a six acre veg farm could never generate enough funds to support the level and quality of individual care provided by our Occupational Therapist, counsellors and trainers and so most income is dependent on donations, sponsorship and fundraising.

We continue to receive referrals from more than 40 different sources, most of them local GPs and mental health professionals, but readers may be surprised to learn we receive no money from the NHS, despite our vital work, proven to be effective, saving the health service tens of thousands of pounds a year.

In the coming year our aim is to increase the profile of Growing Well locally and the understanding of our vital work so we can continue to deliver our vision of for people living with and recovering from poor mental health to be active, to be included in their communities and to understand their worth.

We believe that change is possible no matter how unwell someone is. You can help our mission by:

  • Joining our Crop Share scheme
  • Considering Growing Well when you are fundraising
  • Becoming a regular donor and supporter
  • Becoming a corporate supporter
  • Thinking of us when planning your legacies
  • Donating your time and expertise

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For more information about our work, how to help, and if you think you, a friend or family member might benefit from our support, visit www.growingwell.co.uk