When retired schoolteacher Jill, 80, moved from rural Wiltshire to central Brighton on the doctor’s advice, she found she missed the countryside terribly.
Hospital discharge following a broken ankle in Spring 2020 brought the complications of covid restrictions, so Jill was referred to Together Co for help with meal and shopping deliveries.
I’m a country girl and I couldn’t bear to just be shut in. I spoke to a link worker from the Social Prescribing Team at Together Co who was so helpful with the shopping deliveries, and we also spoke about life in general. They referred me to a project called Grow.
It was running a restricted programme for covid at the time, but we had some wonderful outings. I met the minibus in central Brighton, and they arranged an icebreaker for us to get to know each other on the bus.
On the first session we went up to Truleigh Hill near Shoreham on the South Downs where we were met by a ranger. There were sheep so friendly you could pet them, and it was a site for the local (Adonis) blue butterfly.
It was like a breath of fresh air. It was fantastic. It felt like Brighton was a million miles away. So little concrete – so few buildings.
For me the countryside is home – to see trees, space, birds, animals, wildflowers – it’s like winning the lottery. It’s like a million pounds and it lasts. I can see it, feel it, taste it. It’s a real gift.
The second session was at Plot 22 – full of allotments and outbuildings that people had made into beautiful places for tea breaks from tending their allotments, abundant with fruit and vegetables and beautiful flowers growing.
It was like a street full of beautiful gardens, each one just as lovely as the other.
They run a timetable of events including times for women, men, people living with dementia and parents with children.
There was a list of optional jobs but there was no pressure whatsoever – you could just sit and watch, or you could weed the pond, do the planting, or weed the beds.
The volunteers there made you feel so welcome, and you were encouraged to share your thoughts if you were comfortable, sitting in a circle and just being in the moment. Mindfulness I think they call it now? We really engaged all the senses.
There was another session where we got to spend some time with horses which was very special, and we also visited a wonderful site at Stanmer.
We had to write a postcard to ourselves, and I wrote: “Remember you are not alone; look up, look down, look all around.”
We ate together around the fire and it was delicious – crisp potatoes with freshly picked herbs, surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, daffodils and forget-me-nots.
Some weeks later I received the card in the post and with some photos from the sessions, and it was a wonderful way of remembering the way it made me feel.
Some months later I was referred, again by Together Co’s Social Prescribing Team, to the Centre for Ecotherapy which is based at Stanmer Park.
They provide transport from your home to Stanmer Park for the first six weeks of the course.
When I arrived, all I could see were wide open fields, a row of ash trees and horses. I could hear the sound of birdsong, and there were butterflies and squirrels. It was magic!
There was so much food growing, every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. Volunteers do the cooking each week, being outside gives you a wonderful appetite.
If you’ve never pulled an onion or garlic from the earth it’s a whole new world! We had to collect the wood for the fire and there were seats around a firepit.
We ate together around the fire and it was delicious – crisp potatoes with freshly picked herbs, surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, daffodils and forget-me-nots. It was like being back at Girl Guides!
The great thing was you could decide at what level you want to join in; you can go for weeks and not speak, it doesn’t matter. There was no pressure.
The feeling these courses gave me stayed with me – the stillness remained.
Many people want to go but can find it hard to find the courage. I can only say to give it a go. You won’t be sorry.
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