A pathway to wellness: seeds for the future

four people in an allotment hugging each other and smiling at the cameraFutures in Mind works with people across Essex who are looking for support with recovery from mental health problems and/or substance and alcohol misuse. The group who meet at their allotment space in Colchester were one of the groups to receive wildflower seeds from Grow Wild in partnership with Jo Malone London.

We went to meet them and find out about how wildflowers can help the people they work with...

It starts to rain just as I reach the allotment, but it’s not putting a dampener on anyone’s spirits as I’m greeted by smiles and handshakes, before being ushered into the poly tunnel to stay dry (ish).

I meet Mark and Louise, who both visit the allotment twice a week.

"Down here no-one judges you. I can just socialise and feel free."

“I had drug addiction and mental health problems and my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t even get on the bus because I thought people were talking about me,” Mark tells me. “I was told being in nature would help so I thought I’d give it a go, and it has. Down here no-one judges you. I can just socialise and feel free.”

“Yeah socialising is definitely the best thing about coming to the allotment... well that and everything we grow here!” Louise adds. "When I was at uni I just sat at a desk a lot of the time and didn’t go out much. Now I come down here a couple of times a week which is great because it gets me out and about.”

two women standing in an allotment smiling at the cameraMichelle and Louise at the allotment

“When I finished uni I realised I needed to build my confidence up a bit before I tried to get a job. I was so nervous the first day I came to the allotment, all these new names to learn. But everyone was really friendly. I started telling people about my hobbies and different things I like to do and they were all so supportive and encouraging.

"Now I feel much more confident and like I could even turn one of my hobbies into a job!”

“Louise is our star baker!” Michelle, one of the members of the group says. “We’ve had some lovely cakes from her!”

Michelle shows me around the allotment, pointing out where they’ve sown their wildflower seeds and the stone path that’s been created by the group members.

“We’re calling it the pathway to wellness,” she smiles.

a man in a black hat is bending down to check plants in a bedMark checks on the plants as they grow

“Everyone has their own patch here and they can grow whatever they like. And if someone isn’t ready to have their own patch that’s fine because they can just help out with the others. We all work together and support each other.” she says.

"There’s no pressure to tell anyone anything you don’t want to."

“Nobody asks you why you’re here, ‘is it addiction or mental health?’ Although addiction is part of mental health anyway. But there’s no pressure to tell anyone anything you don’t want to. We can just chat about our day or whatever and then if you want to share something about your life you can, but there’s no pressure.”

“It’s nice as well because other people from the community who have plots here on the allotment have started coming over and chatting to us and helping out, now they know we’re doing things properly over here!”

“There’s a lady with a bee hive who’s going to show us all about that soon.” Michelle beams. "The bees love the wildflowers almost as much as me! When they’re pollen drunk you can just pick them up and stroke them.”

Her love for the allotment and the group is palpable as she laughs and jokes with the others, bringing everyone together for a group photo.

a man and woman doing some gardening the woman is smiling at the camera, holding a metal watering canMichelle watering the plants

“I think we should all get together in a big group hug like this on normal days too, not just for a photo,” one of the other group members who preferred not to be named calls over to us.

I’ve only been here a short time and I can see why the group enjoys gathering here so much. It feels like a family.

As the sun starts to set Steve, another member of the group kindly offers to give me a lift back to the train station. Steve’s partner was found dead at home just two weeks ago. He tells me that coming to the allotment and driving the other members who are unable to get here otherwise has kept him going. 

“I needed to get out of the house for a bit, get back to a bit of normality. Having people around me who know me, I felt normal for a few hours.” He says. 

As we’re about to leave Michelle comes over. “Before you go...  From us to you!” She says presenting me with a broccoli and a proud grin.

a carved wooden sign attached to a shed says "sow the seed"

Futures in Mind is a service for people with difficulties with their mental health and/or substance misuse across Essex. The charity is a partnership between Phoenix Futures, Mind in West Essex and Mind in North Essex. They provide a variety of activities and resources to service users, including conservation projects, Welcome cafes, arts and craft workshops and sports activities. Furthermore, we also offer volunteer and mental health first aid training. These services allow for people to be supported in their recovery, so that they are reintegrated into their local community.

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