Volunteer Sue helped transform Step Down gardens into therapeutic space

In October 2022, we secured £4,700 from the National Lottery Community Fund to help transform the gardens of one of our mental health care homes in Hove. This care home, rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission, runs Step-Down, a service which supports people who are clinically ready to leave hospital but require intensive support to do so. The money helped us transform the garden into a therapeutic sensory garden.

Shortly after receiving the funding, by pure coincidence, we met Sue or ‘Magpie Sue’, a gardening enthusiast with extensive knowledge who would go on to be integral to the success of the project. Sue was in the area offering mulch to locals when she came across Step Down and we got to talking about the garden project and the upcoming landscaping that was due to take place in the gardens.

Residents enjoy the new outdoor space and use it often.

Sue soon contacted us again, enthusiastically volunteering to support the project. Sue taught us about the ethics of permaculture, which are based in working with nature, not against it. We were eager to use Sue’s expert advice, so she took us to visit a community garden that she had been working on to learn about closed-loop, no-dig, and other permaculture garden systems.

We were also keen to involve our clients living at Step Down in the decision-making process so carried out client surveys to understand their priorities, needs and desires. This allowed us to create a shared vision that considered input from clients, staff and volunteers whilst working in the ethics of permaculture to create a shared vision.

Throughout the planning phase, Sophie, one of our Mental Health Recovery Workers, did lots of research with the help of Sue, which included discussions with an aquatics expert and landscaping services to ensure we had as much knowledge as possible before plans were drawn up.

With this plethora of knowledge, plans were drafted which included a vegetable and herb druid spiral, a bug hotel, a tall grass border, a compost bin, a gravel path, a fishpond and more. To further involve clients in the process, they joined a trip to the garden centre to choose plants and seeds to grow in the garden including tomatoes, chilis, herbs and sunflowers.

Now the hard work began. Southern Land Services, Sue, residents, and staff carried out the physical work of bringing the plans to life. This included safely transferring newts and goldfish to the pond, landscaping, digging pathways and planting the chosen plants and seeds.

Staff also enjoy the newly renovated pond area.

Although the bulk of the work is done, a gardener’s to do list is always ongoing as the garden now needs to be maintained. Residents are enthusiastic about carrying out tasks to help with the garden’s upkeep and future development, such as sewing wildflowers, doing some vertical planting, and growing vegetables from kitchen scraps.

Since the garden transformation, residents have been thoroughly enjoying the new space. They have practiced yoga, meditated, played games, hosted BBQs, shared meals, fed birds and fish – all in the new outdoor space. Residents have also enjoyed picking up gardening as a new hobby by learning from Sue.

We are grateful for all the staff, residents and local services who helped bring the garden to life. We want to extend a particular thank you to Sue, who joined the project by pure coincidence and has been an integral part of the success of the garden.

Skip to content