Green Therapy | Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 Newspaper

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Mental Health




FIND A MOMENT TO CONNECT WITH NATURE -AND YOURSELF Welcome to ‘Green Therapy - Notes on Nature’ CSSC’s Mental Health Awareness Week newspaper. Helping our members look after their mental health is at the heart of our work at CSSC. So, we have been immensely proud to highlight Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, exploring this year’s theme of ‘Nature’. For 100 years CSSC has been using sport and recreation to unite the Civil Service and encourage the Public Sector to take care of themselves, both inside and out, with opportunities to get outside, have fun and stay active. Indeed, from our very inception, we recognised the benefits and importance of connecting with nature and each other. With that in mind, we joined with our partners in exploring ways to help bring a little more nature into your lives, both this week -and beyond! Throughout the week English Heritage, Ordnance Survey, Forestry England, CSSC life, and best-selling author, Sue Stuart-Smith have all shared their expertise on the benefits of getting outside. Catch up on all our content; podcasts, Q&As and advice via the Mental Health Awareness webpage

Green Therapy - Notes on Nature Rounding up the week, Green Therapy includes articles, tools and practical tips from our partners on using our outside spaces and maximising our most precious resource, the environment, in fostering good mental health. Green Therapy also invites you on more personal journeys, told through voices of some of our members, as they reveal their experiences and top tips on using nature to boost wellbeing. Read on and find inspiration to help you build your very own connection with nature. With best Wishes from all of us at CSSC.

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By Martin Allfrey - Senior Curator of Collections (West) During the past year, the way we connect to others and the world around us changed dramatically. Coronavirus restrictions largely stopped in-person social interactions and brought new worries about our health and wellbeing. For those with pre-existing mental health conditions, who were often already isolated and vulnerable, the impact of the pandemic was even greater. Back in 2016, we demonstrated how historic places can boost wellbeing with the Human Henge project at Stonehenge. Now, at a time when the country was in crisis, English Heritage and its partners, The Restoration Trust, The Richmond Fellowship and Bournemouth University wanted to find a way to use Stonehenge as a place for healing again. The Human Henge approach is a mixture of creative learning and social engagement. Before Coronavirus and the move online, participants met at weekly sessions in small groups at Stonehenge landscape with archaeologists, curators and musicians, often doing things they’d never done before. The results exceeded our expectations of the positive impact on participants, so we knew that engaging with historic places can play a significant role in mental health recovery. But, we didn’t know if it would work for people who were not physically together. With the onset of the pandemic, the desire to continue supporting people led to the creation of Human Henge Online. Funded by the Cultural Recovery Fund, delivered directly to people via Zoom, participants were taken on a series of live, virtual journeys through the historic landscape, before entering the stone circle itself. It was lo-tech, filmed on mobile devices by English Heritage and Bournemouth University expert staff, but the Zoom format conveyed an immediate and interactive feel. Small parcels were sent out in advance of each session, linked to that week’s theme, such as a piece of unworked flint or the ashes from the fire in the reconstructed Neolithic hut at Stonehenge. Described by one participant as a “hug in the post”, these small gifts, along with a biscuit and a hot drink, served to bring people together with a shared, tangible experience each week. In the last formal session, participants sent in personal items, such as hand-written messages and photographs which were taken into the circle and filmed, cementing the connection with that particular time and place. Developed in response to lockdown and an experiment in digital engagement, we’re still gathering the results, but it‘s clear from the initial feedback, that despite the limitations of the format, people developed surprisingly profound connections with each other and with Stonehenge. People were really moved by the experience, especially the final session in the stone circle. It was astonishing just how powerful the experience was for everyone involved. While people are keen to meet up in the landscape as soon as it’s possible, we’ve demonstrated not only that historic sites can help with mental health, but also that there’s a place for using technology to deliver programmes which bring excluded and isolated people together.

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I became a true gardener during the pandemic planting flowers an vegetables to add colour and variety to my garden. Getting outside in the fresh air and sunlight, connecting with nature has helped to boost my mood. My garden is full of birds chattering away and bees buzzing, I feel grounded when I potter in the garden after I finish work and become engrossed in the simplicity of the task. Growing vegetables from seeds brings so much anticipation and excitement, waiting for the green shoots to pop through the compost! Last year, we had a bumper crop of tomatoes and runner beans, this year’s adventure is growing strawberries and sugar snap peas. There’s never been a better time to get growing.

I’ve always enjoyed a morning stroll before work but my walks have taken on a new sense of purpose in the past 12 months, using OS maps to plot routes right from my front door and CSSC life to track my steps. I’ve discovered hidden footpaths and trails in an area I have lived for 20 years! Using CSSC life has enabled me to keep pushing myself and walk further each time, to help me improve my fitness. It’s a great way to be out in the fresh air, connecting with nature and you are concentrating so much on the beautiful scenery, you don’t realise how long you have been walking.

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YOUR 15-MINUTE GETOUTSIDE FIX By Eli Bishop, GetOutside Champion, Ordnance Survey

There is a great deal out there to cause us anxiety and stress, so limiting social media and news time is paramount. But also, not all of us have access to beautiful rolling hills or picturesque beaches from our front door, many of us are in towns and cities. However, we can all get outside, in some form every day, and it doesn’t have to be much but it can be meaningful.

So here are 15 ideas that you might like to have a go at. Have a read, the key is to be fully engaged in the activity so maybe leave the phone to one side for 15 minutes. After all, only 15 minutes a day, spent soaking up the sunlight is proven to help mental health, so no excuses! Have fun with it and share what you’re up to (after you’ve done it) on social media using #15Outside If you don’t have access to a garden, balcony or local outdoor space, then sitting by an open window in the daylight will be just perfect!





READ It could be a novel, a magazine, kindle, comic book but maybe not a newspaper as you want to switch off.

MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS Taking 15 minutes to sit and follow a guided meditation is a wonderful thing to do. Again there are lots of apps and online guided meditations that you can follow or just sit, comfortably. Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking one of your favourite walks, or sat on a warm beach as the sea rolls in and out. Breathe in for the count of 8, hold, breathe out for the count of 10, hold and repeat.

BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN NEIGHBOURHOOD When you go on your daily exercise why not walk around your neighbourhood and check in on some of the local sights that ordinarily pass you by? Are there any blue plaques near you? If so go find out why! You could combine this with some local history research and find out a bit more about where you live. Use the OS Maps Greenspaces layer to find local spaces you never knew existed - but go carefully, remember!

FILL A BOWL & DUNK YOUR FEET This may sound mad but get a washing up bowl of water, take your socks off and sit with your feet splashing in the water. Water is proven to help relax you so why not! I mean who’s to see?



NATURE WATCH Wherever you are, in the garden, on the balcony, sat by the window, we can start really looking and seeing what is out there. You could have a little notebook and record what you see each day. Be it birds, insects, different types of trees or plants.

TAKE IN A SUNSET OR SUNRISE Such a lovely activity to do when the weather is on our side. Taking time to sit and watch as the sun rises or sets.

2 LIE & WATCH THE SKY It’s so simple. Lie down, or sit by the window and look up at the sky, watch the clouds, the birds flying and switch off.

3 HAVE A CUPPA Take your daily cuppa outside, turn the phone to silent and slowly sit, listen and chill

4 15 MINUTES OF STRETCHES/YOGA There are lots of apps and online tutorials for Yoga and stretch exercises you can do, but rather than doing it inside head outdoors for 15 minutes with your mat. There’s so many alternative outdoor workouts you could do, it can be as simple as Rory and Lisa and their step challenges, or download an app and follow a routine, just do it outside if you can!

7 PLAY I-SPY A great one to do with the people you live with! If children find letters hard then play it using colours.

8 RIDE A BIKE Yes this involves getting outside properly, but why not dust down the bike and go out for a ride? You never know you may fall in love with it all over again!

11 PICNIC Get baking, get cooking and then take it outside. Grab a blanket and have a picnic, there is no reason you can’t do this every day. Unless it’s raining of course!

12 PLANT SEEDS Most supermarkets at the moment have some gardening stuff in store, so maybe grab some packets and get planting. Really simple stuff that will see good results are pea shoots, salad leaves, spinach or get yourself a mini herb garden. Sunflowers and sweet peas are great with the kids.

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14 BUILD A DEN It isn’t just for kids you know! Build a den then have a picnic!

15 LISTEN TO MUSIC Or enjoy a Silent Disco - pop your headphones on, get an awesome playlist on and dance!

Remember to leave the phone on silent

take a couple of snaps to upload later but no mindless scrolling during this time! And if you are setting out on a short local adventure be safe, keep your distance from others and don’t take any unnecessary risks.



Forestry England manages and cares for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests, with over 235 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, we shape landscapes and are enhancing forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow.

For more information visit

Forests offer unique sensory experiences, a chance to regain balance and escape from the pressures of everyday life. Experience the restorative power of the forest for yourself with our top-tips for forest bathing or download the free Forests for Wellbeing booklet for more ideas to help you find your perfect forest moment.



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My beloved dog, Joplin, passed away at the end of April. Don’t worry- this isn’t a sad article. It’s a small celebration of what 13 years and 5 months together gave me. A reflection on how a small border terrier not only changed my life – but saved it. Joplin was named after Janis Joplin because, quite simply, she was a wildthing from day one. The names we had thought we might call her, such as Bramble or Ruby, didn’t seem to fit this determined ball of energy. A bit of a ‘character’ you might say. Joplin was a dog who knew what she wanted: Mostly, snacks. But second to that- to be running free - sniffing sniffs and hedonistically enjoying nature around her. For this riotous free-spirit, connecting to nature involved running through it (long grass), jumping in it (stinky ponds), hiding under it (ferns), peeing on it (seaweed) and often- just eating it- (mud from a woodland floor was always worth savouring and even tastier when your human was dashing after you yelling “NO! Stop eating that!”). So, we walked most days- most weathers- wherever we were: In North London we spent hours and hours each week on Hampstead Heath. In South London- we found parks- or strolled alongside a small, mostly forgotten, scruffy river- known to locals. In her last years we mapped our new stomping ground together through the Chilterns. Throughout her life we holidayed in Cornwall, often delighting in our absolute favourite walk, St Ives to Zennor. And from our early days, we walked at night- through the silence and shadows- enjoying a quieter side of nature. Me- finding peace. Her- hoping to find a fox. My memories of all these places and times in my life mostly consist of our walks. That is what Joplin gave me- a love of walking. A life of walking. And my life… for when depression hit in my 30’s, so debilitating and almost life-ending, it was daily walks with her that helped me recover and eventually gave me back myself. Joplin gave me the discovery that I feel more at ease, more myself when walking. She handed me the means to live with depression, to accept it, to walk alongside it, if you like. She gave me the understanding that when the metaphorical Black Dog appears- I need to go and get the leads- and head out with my real dogs for a stroll. I have 2 dogs now. And though I will probably always miss my original walking companion, it will always warm my heart to remember how, a little way into particularly good walk, she’d look up at me, eyes glinting, as if to say “This is the life, eh?”

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Take time to avoid

burnout There’s so much to feel positive about as the UK starts to open up, more of us are vaccinated and we can meet our friends and family. However, there’s no getting away from the lingering effect the pandemic is having on many people’s mental wellbeing. In 2020, The Charity for Civil Servants carried out research into the effects of the pandemic on civil servants and found that they had had a tough year. They found that 74% of respondents felt that the pandemic had negatively affected their general wellbeing in 2020.

A RANGE OF HELP AND ADVICE One in four adults* will experience a mental health condition of some kind each year. Mental wellbeing affects, and can be affected by, a number of issues. That’s why the Charity developed a range of services, both online and offline, to address issues that can affect your mental wellbeing. The Charity for Civil Servants’ personalised self-help tools and resources will enable you to access support on your terms. They include an online wellbeing chatbot, DogBot and their Wellbeing Hub, which pulls together information and advice on managing your wellbeing, all of which can be emailed directly to your inbox. You can also access a series of webinars by registering online. Topics range from dealing with stress and anxiety, to sleep, grief, gratitude, stress management and many more.

LOOK AFTER YOUR WELLBEING If you’re feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the constant demands of work and life, you may well be experiencing burnout. Working from home or in isolation, with fewer social and leisure opportunities, can also be factors. We sometimes need to be reminded to look after our own wellbeing, including spotting the signs of burnout and seeking help quickly. It can be hard to admit to ourselves when we are overwhelmed, let alone tell other people how we feel. It can feel like failure, in fact it’s courageous to acknowledge it. If you’re missing deadlines, distracted, irritable, lacking sleep, or feeling like you can’t do your job well any more, you may need to recover, refresh and reboot. Visit the Charity’s Burnout Hub to find ways to improve your wellbeing.

The Charity for Civil Servants supports all current, former and retired civil servants throughout their lives, listening without judgement and offering practical, financial and emotional support. To find out more about the Charity’s services, or to get involved, please visit or call 0800 056 2424. *The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (February 2016)

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Whatever challenges you face, you’re not alone The Charity for Civil Servants provides support when you have financial difficulties, are caring for someone, or simply when you’re feeling overwhelmed. We’re here for your wellbeing throughout your Civil Service journey, right into your retirement.

To access help or for more information on The Charity for Civil Servants visit A charity registered in England and Wales no. 1136870 and in Scotland SC041956.

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(Deputy General Secretary, Civil Service Pensioners` Alliance (CSPA) David Luxton, 67, is Deputy General Secretary of the Civil Service Pensioners` Alliance (CSPA) , representing 50,000 retired Civil Servants. David previously worked for 36 years as a National Secretary with the trade union Prospect (which evolved from the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, IPCS) representing specialists in a variety of Government Departments and Agencies, and is an accredited mediator, with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution.

As we approach early Summer, with the buds of May in full bloom, and longer and lighter evenings to enjoy, we should all be able to feel optimistic about better times ahead. At least it could not be any worse than the past five months, with a complete lockdown and enforced social isolation for so many people, including many former Civil Servants who have retired and live alone. The covid pandemic has had a huge effect on our wellbeing and mental health with loneliness and isolation a key factor linked to anxiety and depression. For many of us the highlight of the week has been a weekend walk with a friend or family member, but the inability to have the social effervescence of being with friends, visiting grandchildren, or going out for a meal or drinks has taken its toll and left a void of emptiness and loss of purpose for so many people. The impact of loneliness during the lockdown was highlighted in a recent Government report which summed up how we were all feeling when it spoke of “the devastating effects on our collective mental health and wellbeing, depriving us of the very thing that makes us human and gives meaning to our lives - our physical connection with other people. We have missed the everyday social interactions that add colour to our days, whether it’s sharing food around the table or meeting friends”. The lockdown has been a challenge for many Civil Servants working from home with their only connection with their work colleagues through emails and video conference calls. For many retired civil servants the isolation of lockdown, with no ability to meet up with former colleagues or receive visits from family and friends, has also been very difficult. My own experience working full-time for the Civil Service Pensioners` Alliance (CSPA) has meant over a year of working remotely from home, as our office was closed at the strt of the pandemic in line with the Government guidelines. This proved to be more lonely than I had expected, having just moved to a new area of London in early March 2020 just a few weeks before the first lockdown. The advantage of not having a daily commute to and from the CSPA office in Croydon was offset by having no social interactions during my working day apart from Zoom calls. Whilst this didn`t matter so much in the spring and summer of last year, it did prove more difficult during the bleak cold and dark months of winter. What did help me to feel better was getting into a routine of getting up and going straight out for a brisk walk in the morning before logging on to my laptop for work. I then discovered a local country park a few miles away which I could drive to, or cycle, and have a longer walk or bike ride trafficfree surrounded by nature. I found that just getting outdoors for an hour, either first thing in the morning or at lunchtime or late afternoon helped to clear my head, take in fresh air while exercising, and did make me feel so much better. I`d often stop to take photos of the views and colours of nature, which I then posted on social media to feel more connected with my friends and with nature. The exercise and the fresh air really did make me feel better and happier inside. For many of our members in the Civil Service Pensioners Alliance the lockdowns have been more difficult, especially for those older members required to shield for months on end and not being able to go out at all, or for those who have lost their partners in retirement, and for many who are digitally excluded by not having access to the internet for Zoom or Skype chats with loved ones. Many working Civil Servants may wonder why anyone would have anything to worry about once they have retired with a guaranteed pension? Yet many members do turn to CSPA for advice and help with their pensions. Contrary to popular belief, the average Civil Service pension in payment is only £8,104 a year (NAO report March 2021), and for retired women the average is only £5,874 a year, so retiring before State Pension Age of 66 (soon to be 67 after 2026) means that many Civil Service pensioners are struggling financially which can bring its own worries and anxiety. Some retired members have had to cope with the stress of receiving a letter from the pension administrator MyCSP asking for repayment of a portion of the pension payment that had been overpaid due to admin errors going back a few years, often for large amounts that have accrued as the error had not been picked up earlier. In 2018 an internal audit review led to 1,200 retired Civil Servants receiving letters demanding recovery of pension overpayments paid in error over many years that they had not known about. In these situations, CSPA can provide immediate advice and representation, with legal advice if necessary at no cost to the member. CSPA exists to protect the value of Civil Service pensions and the wider interest of retired Civil Servants through our active campaigning on pension issues; our network of local groups for retired Civil Servants; and we provide specialist advice and practical help for individual members on pension problems. CSPA was established almost 70 years ago in 1952, and is officially recognised by the Cabinet Office as a `Trusted Partner` to represent the interests of retired Civil Servants, which we do through regular meetings with the Cabinet Office pensions team. At only £2 per month subscription (which can be deducted from pension) CSPA provides excellent value for money and a reassurance in retirement. Find out more at: or email: So now we are in mid-May we can all socialise again, and even go into cafes and pubs for the first time this year, we all hopeHealth to see life slowly returning to normality Mental Awareness Week 2021 during | 10the summer months. An ideal time to put any worries to one side, get outside for some fresh air and exercise and reconnect with nature in the green spaces that are around us when we take time to look.

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(Regional Representative of the Civil Service Pensioners` Alliance (CSPA)) Before my retirement from the Civil Service, I was head of welfare in HM Revenue and Customs for four years and led on “wellbeing” for another four years. I also volunteered for the Charity for Civil Servants for around ten years – going to see people who needed support in making an application for help and also as a trade union rep for two unions helping members in trouble. I learnt a great deal from members and colleagues about mental health and how to deal with this. So here are some thoughts based on what I have learnt from my own experience and that of other people who have shared these thoughts with me. I don’t believe one can distinguish between physical and mental health. They go together. A friend of mine broke her ankle. Within 10 days she was in floods of tears and really, really unhappy. She normally went on circuit training every weekday lunch hour, Her GP realised her serotonin levels were unnaturally low without this exercise fix. Once prescribed an antidepressant, she regained her normal optimistic outlook. And was even better once she could exercise again.


It is frightening to lose one’s grip on reality. I have been through that and so have close family and friends. So it is important to get medical help early. And also to check one’s physical health at the same time. There are a huge number of physical problems such as low iron levels, over or under active hormones which can cause serious mental illness.


If one is depressed, this can impact on one’s physical health. Eating properly and exercising regularly go out of the window when it takes all one’s strength to get out of bed. I was supporting a Trade Union member on long term sickness absence due to work and family relationship stress. Her GP boldly prescribed being out of doors for 3 hours a day. In the garden or on a walk. She found the strength to do this and she realised that this was her way out of depression. She sung her GP’s praises to me.


I also learnt from a colleague that when lonely due to a far distant family, getting a dog was a life saver. Nothing compares to having someone ecstatic at the sound of one’s key in the door. Not to mention the need for regular walks which also brought the company of other regular dog walkers. I also realise that having a dog is a long term hourly and daily commitment of time and money so it is not an easy fix. But for a great many people it deepens their enjoyment of life.


I know from my own and family experience it also helps to talk. If one can bear to ring Relate or Cruise or the Samaritans there is a friendly, wise person willing to listen and care. The welfare officers I managed provided support while waiting for NHS mental health support to materialise. They used counselling skills to keep people effective at work for as long a possible – and also to support when there was no alternative to being off sick. They listened. That is the best way. People have to find their own solutions to problems and pain, which may have taken years to develop. I have used counselling myself as a way to cope with death and loss. There are ways through the pain of life.


We have all been through a hard time of isolation and disruption. Many have suffered greatly from loneliness which has caused mental health issues. I am so pleased that IT can help us by providing contacts with friends and family. A way of learning. I have a year of yoga under my belt now which has enriched my life. Attending Zoom classes for my current degree, and a wide range of historical and social events. Nothing like listening to a lecturer at Gresham College explaining the Black Death to bring one’s own situation into context. At one time, we were used to pandemics of TB, typhoid, and polio. Thanks to vaccination, generations have grown up without being seriously ill. I am of a generation who did not have vaccines. Instead in our childhood we suffered the miseries of measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever and the like. Thank goodness we now have the vaccines for the current version of the plague. And thank you to all who have worked so hard to support people suffering from mental health issues caused by this pandemic.

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CSPA: PROTECTING YOUR CIVIL SERVICE PENSION The Civil Service Pensioners` Alliance (CSPA) has been working hard for almost 70 years to protect the value of Civil Service pensions on behalf of our members. We meet regularly with the Cabinet Office to discuss Civil Service pension issues, and we are officially accredited as the representative body for retired Civil Servants. We also work with other pensioner organisations to promote and campaign for the economic and social wellbeing of pensioners. Membership costs just £2 a month (or £2.80 a month for joint membership) and is open to pensioners in receipt of a Civil Service pension; or anyone entitled to a Civil Service pension who is within ten years of retirement. As a member you will receive a quarterly magazine, delivered to your home address, with news about pension changes; current campaigns; and other issues affecting your retirement. You can also benefit from a range of membership benefits including free initial legal advice; shopping discounts; and many other benefits available through our website You can join CSPA by downloading an application form from our website or contact us at Download Application Form

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The wisest book I’ve read for many years. Much more than a gardening book, much more than a guide to better mental health, it is a wholly convincing story of how troubled minds might find a way of reconnecting to themselves and rebuilding confidence and hope by way of nature. Hugely recommended. STEPHEN FRY A Sunday Times bestseller in hardback this widely acclaimed and inspirational investigation into the powerful effects of gardening on our health and wellbeing is now out in paperback. Prisoners given the chance to grow plants are less likely to reoffend. At-risk young people who get their hands in the soil are more likely to stay in education. Elderly people who garden live longer and have a better quality of life. How can gardening relieve stress and help us look after our mental health? What lies behind the restorative power of the natural world? In a powerful combination of contemporary neuroscience, psychoanalysis and brilliant storytelling, The Well Gardened Mind investigates the magic that many gardeners have known for years – working with nature can radically transform our health, wellbeing and confidence. With illuminating stories of how people struggling with stress, depression, trauma and addiction can change their lives, this inspiring and wise book of science, insight and anecdote – now translated into fifteen languages – shows how our understanding of nature and its restorative powers is only just beginning to flower.

“Riveting, inspiring and often very moving…A lively compassionate exhortation for us all to get our hands back in the soil” - Isabella Tree

“An important and timely book… I urge everyone to read it” - Monty Don

SUE STUART-SMITH, a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist, took her degree in English literature at Cambridge before qualifying as a doctor. She worked in the National Health Service for many years, becoming the lead clinician in psychotherapy in Hertfordshire. She currently teaches at The Tavistock Clinic in London and is consultant to the DocHealth service. She is married to Tom Stuart-Smith, the celebrated garden designer, and, over 30 years together, they have created the wonderful Barn Garden in Hertfordshire.

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I live in a relatively small, ground-floor flat, with my wife and seven year old daughter, Isabelle. I’ve always considered us lucky to have a small patio area that’s just for us. Since moving in, it’s been our mini-sanctuary, especially during the summer, whether that be a safe place to let Izzy play and get fresh air, or an open place to dry the laundry. But, despite my wife doing her very best to turn it into an outside nook, with enough pots to fill Kew Gardens, it was never quite enough space to satisfy us. Especially not a nature lover, like her and definitely not for an energetic youngster. So, when we read in our local town’s magazine there were allotments close by we contacted the council thinking we’d get our name on the list and by the time Izzy goes off to college we’d have our very own plot. How wrong we were. The parish council welcomed us with the most energy I’ve ever seen, handed us a map of the allotment and told us to “take our pick from the ten available plots, please! We’d be doing them a favour”. It turns out that any plot not being tendered needs to be maintained by our small parish council, who were basically overwhelmed and understaffed. Uncharacteristically, my wife left it to me to pick our plot, I still suspect it’s to ensure the proper blame could be apportioned should things go wrong. But nevertheless, emboldened by my newly acquired powers I chose a small-ish plot, close to the carpark, but more importantly, slightly fewer piles of rubbish and far shorter weeds to contend with, which had already taken over, given the late start in May. We had a patch of land. Albeit rented from the council, but at just £29 a year, we thought we’d give it a try and give it up after a year if it was too much. Buoyed by our new-found enthusiasm, the first weekend we bought some cheap tools and cleared away the waist height stingers to discover a homemade tool shed, packed full of some moth eaten rusty old tools and netting. Something they neglect to tell you when taking on an allotment, but I’ve been assured is in the small print, you are responsible for keeping it tidy and disposing of any refuse or waste. Something else they ‘forget’ to tell you when a plot becomes vacant, it’s usually because the previous owner got overwhelmed and gave it up. But not before letting it grow wild and expand to astronomic proportions. However, some of the tools were useful and just needed exhuming from where they were once left, I can only assume sometime before the Silver Jubilee. One exhausting weekend later, the weeds were cleared, and high-fives were shared all round. We took the next weekend off to rest our aching joints, only to discover that allotments are a little like children. If you turn your back on them for 5 minutes they get up to all kinds of mischief and seem to grow exponentially when you’re not looking. So, there we are, two weekends later back at the allotment re-weeding the same 10 square metres of land, wondering why someone would plant stinging nettles and brambles and if perhaps stinging nettle soup was in fact the way to go. Or whether our £29 would have been better spent on a growbag. But, clear it again we did, and it was actually much easier this time around. So, that was our first very valuable lesson. Little and often, and each time back is a little simpler. Over the coming weeks we continued to tidy, borrow pallets and spare wood from local businesses and anyone we could and gradually segmented some smaller plots with raised beds. Not a penny was spent, apart from on plasters and tweezers for all the splinters and blisters. Needless to say, our next purchase were some decent gardening gloves.

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On some advice from our new neighbours, we covered the remaining allotment while we tendered our smaller plots and planted some carrots, broccoli, parsnips, peas and courgettes. That’s the other thing no one tells you about owning an allotment. It’s not a solo sport, whether you want it to be or not. Having a corner plot near the entrance, which had been in disrepair for many years, it grew into a focal point for every passing gardener. Everyone would stop to tell us “what a fantastic job we were doing” and “how young we both were”. This last part made it much easier to take on and heed enough advice to fill several encyclopaedias. But we were both amazed how friendly the ‘locals’ were. How knowledgeable they all were and how willing to share their tips, that by the end of the first season we really felt like one of them and we’d been invited into a special community. And I think they enjoy having us there too. Not only were we helping to keep the area tidy, which reflects better on their plots, but I got the distinct impression we were a new, captive audience. New to their stories and tales, with fresh ears and keen eyes. So, the summer of 2019 rolled on and we closed the space down ready for the winter, quite proud of the handful of veg we’d been able to grow. Not quite enough to put a dent in our grocery budget, but certainly enough for a few roast dinners. And WOW! perhaps it was our imagination, or perhaps they really did taste better and fresher than the supermarket.

March 2020 came by quick enough, as it always does, but this time was a little different. We had our plan, my wife had drawn her map and listed her timings of when to plant, then suddenly, lockdown struck, and the new phrase of ‘Coronavirus’ became ingrained in our minds forever. We couldn’t go to work, we couldn’t leave the house, we couldn’t take Izzy to the park and she couldn’t go to school. Suddenly our small, cosy, cheap-to-heat flat, was all of a sudden feeling VERY cosy and very cheap-to-heat. But then, the Government confirmed the rules ‘that people were allowed to go to their allotments for their daily exercise’. And we were off like rockets… Uncovering, weeding, building beds, sowing, planting, watering all through the spring and throughout the summer. There weren’t many positives to take from last year’s lockdowns, but the transformation of our allotment, to us, was pure delight. We were there every day, usually several times a day. Watering in the morning, weeding at lunchtime and building in the evenings. We dug a pond and constructed a wood pile to help the local wildlife, we segregated a plant bed to help the bees from a neighbour’s hive, we dug a herb garden and built a mud kitchen for Izzy. We constructed more and more elaborate designs with canes for peas, sweetcorn and runner beans. We planted every veg you can imagine, including some you can’t and wouldn’t know what to do with when and if it grew. We ordered our free seeds from CSSC’s grow your own initiative, which came three weeks later and took off just as quick. By the time August came around we surveyed our land and had the broadest smiles on our faces. Despite our summer holiday to Spain being cancelled it truly was one of the most inspiring summers we’ve ever had. The sense of achievement and accomplishment was unparalleled. We went to bed exhausted and slept like babies every night.

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It gave us a reason to get up, get out and explore nature. We expanded our minds, we grew muscles we haven’t used in decades and we lost weight, despite the lockdown restrictions. We joined the allotment association, which has annual BBQs and social events and became part of a friendly, welcoming and lively community. We have a greater appreciation and respect for farmers and small-scale gardeners and have started to share our ‘knowledge’ with some of the new plot holders, who have now taken up the mantle over lockdown. Those ten plots I mentioned at the beginning has now changed to a waiting list of over 40 applicants. And the whole allotment has become a thriving, buzzing community, full of laughter and good spirits. It felt a tremendous shame when October came around again. Not just because the growing season was over and the usual autumn blues kicked in, but it was a fond farewell to our allotment. We felt a closeness to it and to each other. But even more than that. It had saved us that summer. It had provided a haven for not only my wife and I but for our daughter. It had given us so much and demanded so little. Just a small amount of time, love and attention. Izzy had grown to love it too. It taught her more about wildlife, woodwork and where food comes from and the time and dedication needed to grow it, than we or school could have ever taught her. We weren’t always successful. We had disasters with parsnips, cabbage blight, late frosts in May and hundreds of injuries and tears. But that just made it all the more rewarding. In some respects, the learning curve was steep, with so much to understand and so much to do. But in other respects, it was easy. Had we wanted to, we could have simply planted fruit trees or grassed the entire plot for a garden to play in. But we’re glad we didn’t, because we’re so much better off for having our plot. We sleep better, we breathe easier, we learn more, we have more to talk about, we have a place to call our own, we have a sanctuary, we have a school, we have a resource, we have a community and we have a purpose. I know I speak for my wife when I say, without our allotment we would be in a very different place this year. A much less joyful place, a much more stressed place, and a much harder place, both physically, mentally and emotionally. I know they can be difficult to get your hands on, especially now, but if you can put your name on the list with your local council, I would encourage everyone to do it. No matter your age, experience or enthusiasm. By the time you get a plot, who knows? You may be in the mood to just try a few carrots or tomatoes. Once you’re up and running you might be pleasantly surprised how little effort they require. With just ten minutes a day, watering and 2 hours a week weeding and digging, you could carve out your very own slice of nature and breathe new life into your wellbeing.

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A regular dose of gardening can do wonders for mental health and quality of life. Research has shown that gardening is effective at reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Not surprisingly, during the pandemic many more people have discovered how looking after plants can improve mood and outlook. Nurturing seeds or young plants is an intrinsically hopeful exercise where the gardener is investing in something positive for the future. A gardener’s efforts in producing flowers to admire or fresh and tasty vegetables or fruit to eat is not only rewarding in itself, but can provide a sense of purpose, direction and control which builds self-esteem and confidence. Studies of gardeners have shown the links to better health, such as reductions in stress and BMI, compared to the health of non-gardeners. Psychologists have also made links between spending time in green spaces and overcoming mental fatigue. As well as increasing feelings of relaxation and calm, gardening can help us cognitively, helping our abilities to concentrate, follow instructions and solve problems. With many advantages for physical health as well, gardening offers an all-round package of holistic benefits, for young and old alike whatever their abilities, which can help improve life satisfaction and happiness.

Thrive is a national charity that promotes gardening for good health and wellbeing which has been going for more than 40 years. We promote gardening for health in 3 ways:


Thrive runs Social and Therapeutic Horticulture programmes for hundreds of people each year who have long-term health conditions and disabilities. Client gardeners work with our horticultural therapy teams at our three gardens in Birmingham, London and near Reading.


We provide information to help make gardening easier for people. We offer online, print and audio resources that give tips, guides and practical information. Every year we receive hundreds of inquiries via phone calls, emails and post from across the UK and beyond.


Thrive educates and trains people in how to use Social and Therapeutic Horticulture to help others. We have helped many people create therapeutic gardening programmes around the country and internationally through our training which is delivered online (and face-to-face when Covid allows). Find out more at:




therapeutic gardening sessions delivered

client gardeners attended programmes

people took Thrive training courses




customer satisfaction with Thrive training

learners did free online courses

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28,371 hours of work provided by volunteers

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volunteers supported our 3 centres

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Growing up next door to the New Forest, lead to me having an inherent connection with the natural World. As a child, most weekends would find me on family walks, in the garden digging something up or riding my bike through the field at the end of the garden. When the first lockdown began in March 2021, I found it really difficult having such a small window of time each day where I could get outdoors. The upshot of spending so much time indoors- and more time in my flat than ever before -was that I started to reconsider where everything went, what houseplants sat where, was the cheese plant getting enough sun? Was it getting too much sun? It wasn’t till later, as restrictions started lifting and we began to have a bit more freedom with our spare time, that I realised how the houseplants had helped me to take a moment each day to think about something other than the pandemic. A moment away from thoughts of work, of the lack of time spent with family and friends. Still to this day, with the near future looking a lot brighter, Sunday mornings will find me with a watering can in one hand and a coffee in the other, tending to my plants around the flat. The last year has really made me realise how taking time to care for something as small as a houseplant can be beneficial to your own mental wellbeing. Wait until you see your first new leaf growing through and you’ll know exactly what I mean. My Instagram feed has slowly become an endless stream of plant related content. Not only teaching me how to propagate my plants, which makes for great presents for friends and family but also the importance of finding the perfect place for a plant to thrive in my flat. If you haven’t got any houseplants yet, you can either find a good website (I like www. or local plant shop/market and get started. I’d recommend starting with something easy, like a spider plant or snake plant. Also, if you get a chance, head along to Columbia Rd Flower Market, or Chiswick Flower Market to find some amazing plants. Some of the pages I would recommend are: Hilton Carter @hiltoncarter Greenka @_greenka (my local plant shop - It’s beneath my favourite coffee shop as well!) House Plant Club @houseplantclub

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LET NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE With Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Spending time outside is incredibly rewarding for both our mental and physical health. Whether it’s gardening, walking, drawing, painting, reading or even simply sunbathing, the exercise, relaxation and increase in vitamin D has many, many benefits we can all enjoy. And no one knows how to maximise your time outdoors better than the experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Wakehurst, the wild botanic gardens in Sussex.

Outside inspiration Throughout the spring and summer both Kew Gardens and Wakehurst are hosting a number of events and activities to help inspire us all to enjoy nature, get outdoors more and reap the rewards of the environment. 6 ways to bring in nature whilst stuck indoors If you’re unable to leave your home or spend as much time outdoors as you’d like to, there are loads of ways you can bring nature into your home and enjoy all the benefits that come with it. Kew Gardens have brought together their favourite ways to bring the outside in. So, whether you’re lucky enough to enjoy a garden or simply looking for tips to improve your view, find some inspiration with Kew’s six of the best. How to create a sensory garden From gardens and allotments to window boxes and balconies, there’s more to nature than trees and shrubs. The outside has an amazing ability to stimulate all our senses and each one boosts your wellbeing in its own unique way. Whether it’s smell, taste, touch, sight or sound, take a wander through Kew Garden’s top tips on exploring and exploiting your senses. Mindfulness in your home When Sherlock Holmes claimed it was “Elementary” he wasn’t perhaps referring to improving our mindfulness. However, the four elements of earth, water, fire and air do play a huge part in helping many of us to relax, unwind, exercise and enjoy ourselves. Discover these simple steps from Kew Gardens to improve your mindfulness and help make good health and happiness elementary. Bring lavender into your home So much more than just a scented flower, the many amazing properties of lavender have been well documented for over 100 years. From healing burns and gangrene to helping us sleep and pollinate gardens. If you thought you knew everything about lavender, think again and let Kew Gardens share the therapeutic benefits of summer’s most famous smell. Inspiration for isolation As the famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said: “I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way, things I had no words for.” We could all take heed of Georgia’s words to help us spend more time outside. Whether a novice or expert, a painter, poet or potter, there is no better way of letting nature inspire our creativity to improve our wellbeing, than spending time among the flora and fauna.

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If you’ve been inspired to explore more of Kew Garden’s wonderful sights, sounds and smells, they have many superb activities and events for all ages. As CSSC members you get free entry with up to 5 children, to both Kew Gardens and Wakehurst. Plus, 50% off a second adult guest. Remember to book your arrival times with CSSC and download your digital membership card in advance.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are running wellbeing sessions to help you relax and unwind.

Seek mindful moments

Work up a sweat

Perfect for individuals and families

Pre-book your session today in: Tai Chi

Forest Bathing



Summer Cycle

For these and loads more sessions, find out what’s on at Kew Gardens.



Witness bio-diversity in action with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s summer series between 1 May and 19 September

Explore their line-up of installations and performances:


Plantscapes – Get a fresh perspective of native species from artist, Vaughn Bell

Tree listening – Experience the sounds of nature’s giants with help from composer, Carol Jones

Extintion song – Join sound artist Jason Singh, to better understand and hear the musical chorus of plants

Please be Seated – See Kew Gardens from unique vistas, to sit, lie and relax from architect Paul Cocksedge

The little gardener – Interactive puppet show to engage and inspire your little saplings.

Bring nature to life with these and other live or interactive events at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Wakehurst.

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HEALTHY BODY HEALTHY MIND THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF EXERCISE By Sean Connolly, Health Promotion Officer, Introduction Physical activity has shown time and time again the benefits our bodies can reap from what we sow when we engage in various forms of exercise. Better weight control, reduced risk of chronic disease, reduced risk of injury, increased energy and improved mental health and mood! Let’s focus on those last two points– mental health and mood. These we cannot see, yet exercise plays a huge role in enabling us to improve our mental health and in turn, when we feel better we are more inclined to get moving, so both physical and mental health go hand in hand!

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise - The science Research has shown that exercise is a mood booster – but what exactly does that mean and why? When we engage in physical activity we encourage and initiate chemical reactions within our brain and body. We literally open new pathways in our minds that help to reduce feelings of anxiety while promoting feelings of calm and wellbeing. We boost serotonin levels which is the chemical that reduces feelings of depression. We also release endorphins and dopamine, our “happy hormones”. The endorphin release triggers positive and energising feelings and the dopamine works as the messenger or transmitter, sending these feelings throughout the brain and body. You may have heard of “Runners High” which has been described as that euphoric feeling a runner gets during or at the end of a race. It’s a combination of the physical exertion they went through and that reward of euphoria and positive energy when they cross the line! This is the result of the chemical play that occurs naturally when we get active! Exercise also serves as an amazing way to reduce stress. It represses the bodies need to release high amounts of stress hormones such as cortisol in response to fight or flight scenarios. As we exercise we increase heart rate, our bodies become accustomed to this state which means that when high stress situations present themselves our mind and body are better prepared to deal with them.

Self-Care is not Selfish We also develop more awareness around self-compassion and confidence. We exercise and our body not only responds internally but externally. We begin to change in a physical way. We may lose weight, tone up, build muscle – in a nutshell: we feel good about ourselves therefore our minds are in a much healthier state than it ever was! Our newfound confidence can benefit not only our personal and professional lives but it benefits those around us. Happiness is contagious!

Sleep Exercise has been proven to promote a better night’s sleep. When we exercise we are using a multitude of chemicals, hormones, muscles, joints and brain power. Yes, we can produce all of these naturally but we also need to be mindful that rest and recovery helps restore the supply of these chemicals and repair the body after exercise. Sleep is required so we can continue to exercise and grow in a healthy way. Sleep forms part of the foundation as to how our body performs. It enables our internal body clock to accurately control when we are tired and we feel alert.

Where to begin? If you are beginning to exercise, my advice is to look at what you already do in terms of physical activity. Do you enjoy going for walks in the evening? Why not go for a jog in the evening! Do you enjoy the outdoors? Begin to go on hikes! Do you enjoy being sociable e.g. going for a drink or a sit down meal? Join in group training classes in which you come together to have fun while improving your overall wellbeing! Simply look at what you enjoy doing and turn it into something you love doing. We cannot place a value on our mental health yet once we start to invest in it, the benefits and rewards will become a treasure that will continue to grow but that none of us should take for granted. Keep growing, allow health to become your wealth.

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CSSC life, health and wellbeing powered by It’s not always easy to find the time to get outdoors and focus on our own wellbeing. Fortunately, that’s where CSSC life is here to help. Packed with mindfulness and fitness classes, exercise programmes and expert advice on fitness, nutrition and wellbeing to help to look after your wellbeing indoors. Plus, with step tracking and podcasts, CSSC life is your perfect companion to explore outside and look after your health and wellbeing.

Explore CSSC life – our FREE wellbeing platform for CSSC members

For more information on Exercise for the Mind, visit the CSSC life Wellbeing Studio and watch our seminar. Make sure to also book your place on our live Mental Health 101 event on 10 June at 12:30pm.

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As a wellbeing organisation, CSSC recognises & promotes the importance of maintaining a healthy body & mind. However, we are not a recognised health institution and any information provided by us should not be taken as advice or guidance. For further support, please contact your GP or visit the following organisations.



When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information is vital. Why not take a look at their guides, helplines and online community.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is leading a movement against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. If you need someone to talk to they have a helpline and a webchat.

Find out more

Find out more



Whether you’re a young person who needs someone to talk to or a parent that’s worried about their child, Young Minds can help. You can follow their blog posts or check out their other online resources.

Confidential advice and a wealth of information about substances, their effects, and the law surrounding them. FRANK also offer guidance and support for those struggling with substance abuse.

Find out more

Find out more



Information and advice on eating disorders, with a supportive online community. Also provides a directory of services to put you in contact with the people/tools to provide extra support.

We all have responsibility for our own health, but the NHS is also responsible for helping people to improve their health and wellbeing by providing nationwide healthcare.

Find out more

Visit website

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