Where: Manchester, UK
Collaborators: Refugee Action, Groundwork, and local operators
Refugee Action’s Wellbeing Cycling Club was set up in 2008 in partnership with the Cycling Touring Club (CTC) and funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Target Wellbeing. Between 2013 and 2015, the Wellbeing Cycling Club provided cycling training to over 400 asylum seekers and refugees throughout Greater Manchester. For a few hours a week, keen learner and experienced cyclists took part in park-based and on-road cycling activities, including training on safety, control, and the Highway Code.
Cycling classes were targeted at different age and gender groups, and advertised through word-of-mouth, posters, and staff working at centres such as the Boaz Trust, Revive, and the British Red Cross. The formal cycling training sessions were supplemented by ongoing individual advice from social work students on placement from Manchester and Salford Universities. Though it focused on cycling, this additional encouragement aimed at addressing wider issues in relation to stress and wellbeing in a broader life context.
Evaluation of the project was built into all stages, partly through the keeping of ‘cycling diaries’ by 47 participants. Two thirds of respondents reported an improvement in their stress management, 83% reported feeling happier after having taken part, and all appreciated learning new skills. Some groups built a sense of community among participants, and an increase in confidence allowed them to explore their neighbourhood more freely. For some, cycling became their favourite means of getting around. Sadly, the specific funding stream ran out in 2015, bringing an end to the project, and the bikes were donated to a local community project who could continue its good work.
What: Post trauma mental health support through gardening
Where: London, UK
Collaborators: South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (Slam), Maudsley Charity, and horticultural project Roots and Shoots.
For 10 years the project has provided therapeutic gardening and psychotherapy to refugees and asylum seekers suffering from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many who use the service have been affected by trafficking, torture, violence and rape, and have been referred by mental health services at the Southwark PTSD trauma unit. Prior experience that clients have in gardening varies: some are very experienced, whereas others are complete novices.
Gemma Eke, a clinical psychologist from Slam, explains how many of their service users with PTSD are in need of routine in their lives, and that involvement in a facilitated gardening project can help to provide this. Initially, clients attend a 10-week course in a group, wherein they are taught skills to manage their mental health, after which they are invited to return for a weekly gardening session. According to Gemma Eke, gardening as a tool for psychotherapy not only helps clients to ‘concentrate better’ and ‘to be present’, but also develops social relationships and trust. Asylum seekers who take part in the project often refer to powerful metaphors in relation to gardening and recovery. As one participant said: “When I see the corn growing I think, although my life has been demolished, I can still grow again.”