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Successful summer sees ambitious garden plan come to fruition

Wentwood Court gardens

After a challenging 18 months caused by the pandemic, occupants of a Newport residential home have spent the summer enjoying the fruits of their labour after they decided to transform their existing garden into a flourishing community space.

With activities and socialising severely restricted by Covid-19, residents at Wentwood Court in Newport set about converting the underused areas at their communal house and individual bungalows into thriving gardens.

Wentwood Court, which is run by Ocean Community Services, provides step down and rehabilitation care for men and women with mental health needs, autistic spectrum conditions, learning disabilities and acquired brain injury. It is home to 14 full-time service users, many of whom have benefitted from the ambitious project.

Kim Raymond, Home Manager at Wentwood Court, said: “The idea of making better use of our grounds to create a seed-to-plate project was brought to me by service users and staff. One of our service users was especially keen on the project so he was tasked with planning out the garden.”

The first step for the team was to repurpose the lawn, which had previously only been used as a thoroughfare, to create easily accessible raised beds and potting tables. This meant that everybody, including those in wheelchairs, or with mobility issues, were able to take part.

Once the space was prepared, service users were supported to go out and purchase seeds, a mix of flowers and vegetables, as well as buy fruit trees to create their own orchard.

Kim said: “Wentwood Court has always enjoyed a positive environment but, with this project, it really came alive. Our community gardens are a much better use of the lawn space and they have brought a real sense of fun and vibrance to the place.

“Of course, it has been a steep learning curve. At the beginning we just grew everything we could and some things did go to waste. As the project has developed, we’ve worked out what works well and what people actually want to eat so have focused our efforts on foods such as potatoes and onions which we use a lot of.”

As well as the home-grown produce encouraging more residents to try different types of fruit and vegetables, the project also had wider health impacts in terms of helping people stay active and benefiting individuals’ mental health.

Kim added, “Boredom can certainly have an impact on mental health and while we strive to keep our service users active and engaged, as we all know, lockdowns really took their toll. Consequently, our gardening work had a hugely positive effect, not only did it help our service users to get outside more, they were more active, they tried different foods, and gained a real sense of achievement from being able to show off what they had grown.

“This is just the beginning for us as a team. Our next project will be to move the pond so that we can plant more fruit trees and we’ve even had some requests for chickens.”

There have also been individual success stories with one bungalow resident transforming his garden into his own oasis.

Kim said, “One service user has made his garden really bright and vibrant, getting others involved, helping him to paint his fence in rainbow colours as a tribute to the NHS.

“He has a real passion for animals so, we arranged for him to be taken to Langstone Garden Centre to choose some ornaments. Unfortunately, with Covid and his underlying health conditions he had to shield and couldn’t get out of the car but the staff at the garden centre were amazing, and they would wheel out options for him to choose from through the car windows.

“He never used to use his garden but now he will have other service users over for afternoon tea. It has done so much for improving people’s confidence and encouraging them to mix with other service users.”

Sarah House, Operations Director at Ludlow Street Healthcare, said, “This was a huge project for the Wentwood Court team and it has been done in a thoughtful, careful way to ensure everyone’s needs and abilities are taken into account.

“Service Users were involved at every stage of the project and subsequently they feel a real sense of ownership towards the gardens. The gardens have thrived over the summer months and it has been wonderful to see.”