A Brief History of the Charity
Up until twenty years ago, many people assessed as having a severe and enduring mental illness spent their lives confined in large mental institutions, formerly known as ‘lunatic asylums’ or ‘madhouses’.
In the 1980s, it became government policy to close many of the large psychiatric hospitals and for the ex-residents to move to live in the ‘community’. This policy was known as ‘Community Care’, and aimed to restore more ‘normality’ to people’s lives.
While living in the institutions, many of these people had been usefully occupied in growing their own food in the hospital grounds, or making furniture in the hospital workshops. A group of committed people, who had been working with the mentally ill in a voluntary capacity, became very concerned about the implications of this profound change on the people involved, especially as they believed there was no ‘community’ for them to move into.
They came together and commissioned a survey to see which aspect of their lives people with mental illness, who were moving out of hospitals, most wished to change. This identified the great need for meaningful occupation to restore purpose and meaning to people’s existence. A realistic form of work would give structure to their day, the opportunity to make new friends and develop social networks, give them the dignity associated with working, and the chance to regain the lives they had lost due to illness.
A registered charity, the Sheltered Work Opportunities Project, was established in February 1990. Due to the generosity of Bournemouth Borough Council, a site was leased to set up a commercial plant nursery, originally designed to grow plants for the landscape market. The project was named Cherry Tree Nursery.
After the success of Cherry Tree, and increasing demand for places, Chestnut Nursery was set up to cater for Poole residents and the surrounding areas. The site was the old Poole Park council nursery. The council kindly leased the site to the charity and the retail nursery began. The site had been vacant for 4 years and was overgrown and over run with buddlia seedlings! The nursery has gone from strength to strength, producing summer and winter bedding, perrenials, shrubs, herbs, fruit bushes, trees and vegetable plants.