Leeds project harnesses health benefits of the great outdoors

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In the grounds of the impressive Oakwood Hall in north Leeds, a transformation has been taking place.

Shrubbery has been cleared to reveal views down the long garden, raised beds and vegetable plots have yielded homegrown produce and attractive hedges created.

But it’s not a team of gardeners who have done all this work. Since April, a Green Gym project has been running there, one of several run by volunteers from the Hollybush Conservation Centre in Kirkstall. Funding has come from two of the Leeds clinical commissioning groups to run therapeutic gardening projects as part of the Social Prescribing services.

Pauline Pickett, project officer for the Green Gym, said: “It’s been recognised that being outside, active, in the fresh air, doing exercise and being part of a group is a good thing.”

Participants may have mental health problems or long-term physical conditions, or they may be socially isolated.

“Having somewhere to be gives a structure to their week,” she added. “For some people, this is their only outing.”

The group at Oakwood Hall meets every week, rain or shine, with the social element as important as the work they’re doing.

Aviel Sela says attending has helped him “immensely” as he has struggled to get out.

He suffers from anxiety and depression, and has a form of autism, so can find it difficult to be around people.

“I also find loneliness very difficult, so coming here allows me to interact with people,” the 44-year-old from Moortown said.

“I’m in an environment where I feel safe to be myself.

“Being outside is extremely therapeutic and very calming.”

Being a part of the Green Gym has led one attendee to develop her hidden skills.

Sara Jackson has gone on to do woodwork courses after learning about the craft through the gardening project at Oakwood Hall, as she used to be a resident at the centre run by mental health charity Community Links.

The 27-year-old from Seacroft lives with mental health issues and says the group helps her.

“I learned how to use different tools and have gone on to do a woodwork course – I’m on my second one now.”

“I’ve got friends here and it gives me a daily routine. If I wasn’t here, I’d be sat at home.”