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Outdoor space at St Luke’s in Armagh for staff and service users to sow and grow

Staff and service users from the Community Addiction Service who led the court yard project

The Southern Trust was delighted to welcome the newly appointed Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland Professor Siobhan O’Neill and Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Alderman Glenn Barr, to see how a project to create an outdoor space at St Luke’s Hospital is benefiting the wellbeing of service users and staff.

The ‘sow and grow project’ which began last spring, saw the transformation of a courtyard area by the Community Addiction service who teamed up with the ARC horticultural project for people with learning disabilities.

The idea was developed through ‘SoHope’ (Southern Hope) a group of staff and service users who work together to improve addiction services across the area.

They brought in gardening and woodwork expertise from the ARC, to create a beautiful new look space, complete with shrubbery, an allotment, lawn, seating, a bird table and ‘bug hotel’, offering a calming outdoor area for staff, service users and carers to enjoy.

The project was funded through the Department of Health’s Mental Health Innovation Fund with additional support and resources provided by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

During the visit Professor O’Neill and the Lord Mayor met with service users and staff who have worked on the project.

Paying tribute to all involved, Southern Trust Chief Executive, Shane Devlin said: “The restrictions introduced as a result of the pandemic have undoubtedly had an impact on the mental wellbeing of many people, particularly those supported by our Community Addictions service.

“It is so encouraging to see how, despite the challenges of the past year, the team like so many of our Trust services, have shown such creativity and determination to continue to support their service users when they have most needed them.

“Physical exercise can have a really important role in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse for general overall health. We also know the benefits of being outdoors and connecting with nature for our mental wellbeing. Through ‘sow and grow’ the team began sowing the seeds of a positive lifestyle change and have brought so many therapeutic benefits to our service users, building relationships and giving everyone a real sense of purpose to create this space.”

Trust Chair Eileen Mullan continued: “Throughout the summer months, as they progressed into the ‘weed and feed’ stage of maintaining the area, service users have really enjoyed the fruits of their labour in this lovely outdoor environment which now offers a welcome place for some time out, fresh air or exercise as part of their ongoing recovery.”

Julie Ann Gray Community Addictions, Trust CEX Shane Devlin, Lord Mayor Glenn Barr, Trust Chair Eileen Mullan, Siobhan ONeill MH Champion

“It is fantastic to see that our hardworking staff are also greatly benefiting from this new outdoor area, using it for sessions with service users, as a place to unwind after a stressful day or simply to enjoy a nice walk to and from work. With so many benefits, we look forward to seeing how the future plans for this area develop, including seasonal activities, more conservation projects and physical exercise programmes. Well done to everyone!”

Professor Siobhan O’Neill added: “Addiction is related to trauma and adversity; and healing is fostered through compassionate support in a therapeutic setting. This project uses green spaces, which we know to be therapeutic, and meaningful activity, to promote connection, creativity and hope. I am grateful to all those involved and thank the Trust for supporting this and for their commitment to helping those who struggle with mental illness and the staff who look after them.”

The Lord Mayor, Alderman Barr concluded: “Congratulations and well done to everyone involved with this new outdoor space which I am sure will be well used by both service users and staff.”

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