The Putting Down Roots initiative uses “ecotherapy” to support recovery and improve physical and mental health.
Being of service is a powerful way to bolster recovery. We know this.
A gardening trainer working with one of London’s largest homeless non-profits found this out for herself.
Victoria O’Dwyer told her story in The Guardian. “I’d always had gardens growing up. Actually, my garden was always a good indication of where I was with my well-being—if I felt good, it was buoyant and green. If I was partying hard, my garden was full of weeds and uncared for,” she wrote.
O’Dwyer went to school, got a degree, and worked. But it wasn’t until later that she would face her substance use.
After graduating from university with an arts degree, she worked in the hospitality industry for 13 years. “It suited my lifestyle at the time. But under the radar, I was using substances. Nobody noticed during all those late nights as everyone was drinking.”
Changing Her Lifestyle
She grew tired of the same old routine and decided to try something different. “When I was in my mid-thirties, I realized I needed to change my lifestyle,” she wrote. She studied psychodynamic counseling, leaving the hospitality industry for a job at a tennis center. “I thought hanging around healthy people might help me, but actually it didn’t work.”
After seven years at the tennis center, O’Dwyer enrolled in a treatment program to address her substance use. “I gave up my job and entered rehab. It was there that I was encouraged to try garden therapy.”
Putting Down Roots
O’Dwyer, 42, has now been in her role as a gardening trainer for 18 months with Putting Down Roots, an initiative run by the non-profit organization St. Mungo’s Broadway. The program teaches gardening skills to homeless people, using “ecotherapy” to support recovery and improve physical and mental health.
“I enjoy helping others who have found themselves in a less preferable situation, and being an example of that you can actually pull yourself out,” wrote O’Dwyer.
A review of Putting Down Roots found that the program helped boost motivation, increase physical activity, improve concentration, energy levels and sleep, and rekindled hope and empowered participants. An impressive 37% of participants either gained a qualification (i.e. certification) and/or went on to pursue volunteering opportunities, education or employment.
The program has helped O’Dwyer, too, by helping her build a stable life and become confident in herself and her work.
“I feel more responsible now. Before I rarely slept and was often hanging on by a thread,” she wrote. “I didn’t have much confidence. Now I work really hard and my confidence is real confidence.”