A year ago when Ray came to Thrive, he was at a complete loss and couldn’t see a future for himself.
Following a career in the army, including particularly tough tours of duty in Northern Ireland where he lost two close friends, Ray was left battling severe depression whilst trying to hold down two jobs to support his disabled wife and family. The future felt bleak. When he heard about Thrive at a veteran’s group session run by Combat Stress, Ray was interested but it still took him considerable courage to actually come along to the charity.
Thrive offered him a place on the “Down to Earth” programme at Saltwell Park, Gateshead which supports veterans living with a wide range of physical and mental health difficulties and is funded by The Royal British Legion. The programme combines practical physical work with gaining horticultural skills and a qualification if desired. It also encourages shared experiences and the forging of friendships. This is what social and therapeutic horticulture is all about and Ray says he can’t believe the difference in his outlook on life.
In the beginning, Ray was quite timid, quiet and reserved, and was experiencing memory issues, but fitted in with Thrive right from the word go. Ray said; “Even though it all sounded great, it was so difficult for me to start with, but I persevered as I knew it would be good for me………… and I am so glad I did!”
There has been a marked improvement in Ray’s memory and a noticeable reduction in his levels of anxiety. He enjoys sharing his life experiences and skills with the rest of the group and by doing so has gained confidence. So much so that on a recent therapy break with Combat Stress in Scotland he attended a horticultural session with other veterans and was able to showcase the skills he had acquired at Thrive. He apparently shone and led some sessions, even showing their ‘experts’ how we do it!
“I love it here so much I that I even get to Saltwell Park an hour before it all starts so I can check on the plants and look at the gardening books! We all work at our own pace and never face any pressure. It makes me relaxed and comfortable which makes me want to learn. ”
That desire to learn has inspired Ray to gain a further qualification and he is now working towards the City and Guilds Work Based Horticulture Level 2 Diploma which could open the door to a new career – all linked to the gardening he clearly loves. For Ray, the future is looking brighter every day!
Sharon, a Senior Horticultural Therapist at Thrive’s site at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, said: “It’s been a real pleasure working closely alongside Ray and seeing how gardening has helped change his outlook on life. Ray’s story is a journey from dark despair to confidence and hope – it’s been an emotional journey from the early days to where we are now, sharing emotions, fears and experiences and I am so proud of what Ray has achieved.”
“I have really enjoyed learning the proper way to do things in the garden and the lads and lasses who volunteer here are a real help. I am confident, take pride in what I do, and see real benefit in growing things. It’s been brilliant therapy for me.”
Although Ray continues to live with mental health difficulties and cope as a carer for his disabled wife, he never misses a session and that is a huge compliment to us as it shows his enjoyment in attending and commitment to the project. He has grown in so many ways and is a valuable asset to the project.
Thrive continues to raise funds to help people like Ray at its four regional centres. If you can help, please visit the website.
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