How RHS Garden Bridgewater is making people healthier and happier

The benefits of being outdoors and gardening have long been documented: the healing power of nature can help both our physical and mental wellbeing.

And at the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Bridgewater in Salford, they're harnessing what is often called 'green therapy', in a very powerful way.

Not only do they boast a community grow garden, where community groups, charities or schools can come and grow their own produce, but they also run a wellbeing programme for patients who are referred by their GPs.

And in a first for the Royal Horticultural Society, that course is run by their first ever therapeutic gardener, Ozichi Brewster.

Ozichi Brewster is the RHS's first therapeutic gardener, and runs a 16-week Wellbeing programme at RHS Bridgewater Credit: ITV News

Ozichi was born in Britain but grew up in Nigeria, and from those very early days developed a profound love of the outdoors and gardening.

"Gardening is definitely in my veins," she says.

"I love being outdoors, I grew up outdoors, I need to be outdoors.

"Being in nature just feels right. We're derived from nature so it makes sense that we feel good when we're in nature.

"It makes sense that we like plants, we like the use of them, we eat them, we like the sight of them, we like the smell of them. And so our whole being functions well around plants."

The Community Grow garden was designed as a series of hexagonal beds, and is used by a diverse mix of groups learning about horticulture Credit: ITV News/Mike Ledward

Ozichi is well placed to support those who come on the wellbeing course and understands how difficult and overwhelming life can feel - in a previous job working in mental health, she suffered burnout herself.

"I worked in mental health for 15 years," she says, "and during that period, I experienced a really difficult period where I did have burnout and was really finding it difficult to just access the normal things that I did every day.

"So for my own recovery, I got back heavily into gardening for myself, for my own needs, and it was so satisfying and so rehabilitating that I got an allotment on top of that.

"It just became very clear to me that as much as I love supporting people, I needed to do it in an environment that was supporting me."

Credit: ITV News

The sorts of patients who are referred by their GPs for social prescribing, can be those with multiple chronic health issues, including arthritis, diabetes, depression, anxiety or dementia.

The 16-week course is designed to help de-stress, learn new skills and encourage socialising.

Whilst this therapeutic work is not a cure for those who come on the course, Ozichi is emphatic in her praise for the benefits it brings.

"One or two did confess that when it was prescribed for them, they said, I've never done gardening. I don't see how this is going to help me.

"The minute they started planting baskets, troughs, beautifying an area that we were working in, he was smitten."

Why does gardening make us happier?

We asked RHS Bridgewater's Community Grow Gardener, Faye Howells to explain why gardening puts us in a better mood.

She explains that not only does it allow us some quiet time to work through our thoughts, but they are also scientific reasons why it helps our mood.

"In the soil, we have little organisms and you inhale those organisms as you're working away in the soil and they let off endorphins in your brain like chocolate does, which just make you happy.

"And when the sun shines, you get vitamin D, so all of these together, it's just a really good form of wellbeing and it just makes you happier."

But that is not the only way Bridgewater is aiding wellbeing, they also run a community grow garden where local groups can come and grow their own produce, learn about horticulture and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of being outside with nature.

A whole range of different groups use this garden, including schools for pupils with complex learning needs; a refugee group; a homeless charity; and a survivors group for those with PTSD.

Just like the Wellbeing programme, these groups have found huge benefits both to their physical, and mental health.

The Community Grow Garden sits in the centre of RHS Bridgewater, and is used by 10 diverse groups of charities and schools Credit: ITV News