A Plant-Based Diet Of Learning
TES|October 25, 2019
Aware of the mental health benefits of green-fingered working, Nigel Cox helped to set up an outreach course at his college to support people recovering from substance abuse and other personal challenges
Nigel Cox

It’s Friday morning and a group of adults is gathered in a shed in Somerset. They’re working together to prepare and plant hanging baskets. It sounds like a simple enough task – and in some ways it is. But for these adults, such tasks can be life-saving.

All the assembled adults are our students at Bridgwater and Taunton College (BTC). They all have highly complex needs: they could be recovering from alcohol or drug dependency, or dealing with severe mental and emotional health issues.

Five years ago we decided, as a college, that we wanted to be involved in more outreach work across our community. Not only was it a way of securing potential students, but it was also a chance to give back to our local area. We set up a meeting with the county council and talked about the potential initiatives we could support them with.

We were told about a rehabilitation programme they’d developed called 12 Steps. The council brought students down from London and other urban environments who needed support in kicking an addiction or overcoming mental health issues. Participants were offered a wide range of courses in everything from computer skills to cookery. We decided that, as a college, we’d like to run some of the courses.

We pondered offering programmes in things such as countryside management and other land-based qualifications but settled on horticulture because of the huge amount of research that links working with plants to good mental health.

The college set up a service agreement with the council. The partnership is simple: the council provides the students; we provide the teaching.

Our course is called Nurturing Recovery and it offers students the opportunity to gain a level 1 practical horticulture qualification through City & Guilds. We have one lecturer on the ground who delivers the teaching, Emma Butler, and I oversee the programme as the course leader for land-based studies.

Garden variety

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