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A reflection from New Leaf

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News, Recovery and wellbeing on 14th May, 2021

Mark Rattenbury, Vocational Services Manager at New Leaf near Exeter, talks about how the service is so closely connected with the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week – nature.

Our mental wellbeing and our connection to nature cohabit our lives even if this is not something we are actively aware of. Nature is all around us and taking the time and noticing the opportunity to connect with the natural environment can feed our holistic selves. During the modern era in particular, we have invested in protecting ourselves from the impact of nature, taming the natural environment to our will and exploiting the bounties that nature has to offer us. We are all now becoming aware of how the changes in our climate may be a visceral barometer of the relationship we have forged over time with our natural environment. As individuals we have choices and we can choose to have a relationship with the natural world around us. The benefits to our mental and physical health can be profound and lifelong.

This is not a new revelation, however the disruption to our lives inflicted by the pandemic has also provided a window of opportunity for many of us to rediscover our relationship with nature. Whether you noticed a new intensity in the songs of birds or an apparent stillness in the urban landscape when experiencing enforced periods of lockdown; this brief respite from normality allowed many of us to form a deeper connection with our natural environment or connect for the first time to new wonders found in nature around our homes.

Sustaining our mental wellbeing and recovering from mental ill health require nourishment in a holistic sense; engaging in activity outdoors that connects us with nature can nourish our wellbeing and vocational services at New Leaf offer this through horticulture and gardening.

An understanding of this therapeutic alliance first became prominent in Europe back in the 18th century and now in the 21st Century where many people experience chronic stress, social disconnection and social barriers to self-agency we are rediscovering the importance of connecting with nature to support healthy individuals and communities. Social prescribing and the importance of finding connection within communities is now mainstream, supported by a growing evidence base for holistic health benefits.

At New Leaf we are privileged to be surrounded by nature. Vocational rehabilitation provides an opportunity for people to connect with meaningful activity and purpose, building confidence and skills that support renewal and encourage self-agency through a broad range of activities. We understand that nurturing plants and witnessing the wonders that a garden may offer can be transformative for individual wellbeing. The pandemic has brought significant challenge in our ability to deliver vocational activities, but thankfully we are now able to resume vocational placements at New Leaf.

Individuals are steadily returning to continue long delayed placements and we have recently started a pilot running vocational group sessions with Langdon and Russell Clinic. We hope that the groups will provide a therapeutic connection for people earlier in their recovery journey and offer those being cared for in a ward environment the chance to experience meaningful work and self-renewal through engagement with horticulture in a supported rural environment. Although early in the pilot, feedback from both patients and staff has been encouraging – here are a few of the comments received;
"New Leaf is really enjoyable and I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with nature through horticulture”

“New Leaf is such a therapeutic experience. It is relaxing and not only do you experience learning about horticulture, but exploring the natural environment".

"I have found the environment at New Leaf healing and therapeutic for my state of mind due to being away from a forensic setting, thank you New Leaf."

"I'd just like to say a big thank you to the New Leaf team, in providing our patients with a clearly valued opportunity to participate in purposeful work in such a beautiful, relaxing rural setting."

As we steadily adjust to a new normal imposed by the pandemic I am reminded that nature can be both unforgiving and awe inspiring. However we choose to engage, nature surrounds and connects us all and through that connection we can find healing and purpose in the every day.