Chestnut Nursery Volunteers
“The Nursery has given me my life back”
People who have experienced a mental health problem can work on a voluntary basis at the nursery, in a wide variety of roles, for as long as they wish and need. The aim is to provide a happy and relaxed friendly community and to assist people to move forward in all aspects of their lives, while feeling safe, needed, cared for and respected.
At their request, the nursery workers are called volunteers. This emphasises the fact that Chestnut is an independent charity, and not part of the mental health services. People attend on a voluntary basis, because they choose to do so.
Around 55 volunteers are on the nursery books at any one time, coming to us from many sources, including the Dorset & Hampshire NHS Trusts, and the local Employment Service and volunteer bureau. We also accept self referrals.
The majority of the volunteers work in a wide variety of horticultural tasks that are required to ensure the daily running of the nursery. Tasks vary from weeding, potting, taking cuttings and labelling, to construction work, stocktaking, working in the plant sales area or delivering plants to customers, and of course watering, particularly in the summer. Others make the tea and coffee and do domestic duties. The work is organised, supervised and allocated by the staff, and we are also assisted by a group of Friends of Chestnut Nursery.
This is not a job creation scheme, everybody’s work contributes to keeping the nursery going; everyone’s contribution, large or small, is useful and valued. Volunteers are not paid, there is no competition, it’s OK to have a bad day and rewards come in other ways.
The volunteers come from an enormous variety of backgrounds, with many different skills and experiences, but they all share similar difficulties, problems and struggles, which is why they support each other so well.
They build up very close friendships by working together in groups. Alone they cannot cope, but together they are strong.
The work done by our volunteers becomes meaningful and important to them, building the routine and structure of everyday working life, but in a pressure-free environment.
Some people stay for many years, while others move on fairly quickly, some returning to work, others going to college or taking up other voluntary work.
Chestnut Nursery. How Horticulture Helps
Chestnut Nursery has a reputation of offering quality plants and advice. This working environment creates tailored opportunities for the volunteers, which incorporates the nurturing of the plants and provides an Eco-therapy based environment. Being outdoors, in the fresh air, helping to take care of living things and each other creates social support and a sense of doing something meaningful and valuable. Feeling that you are valued members of society, is something very precious and often vanishes within the throws of many mental health conditions.
The nursery was introduced to me through my support worker after being admitted twice to a mental health hospital. I, like many of the volunteers couldn’t cope with my life and the world around me. Medication helped me to a degree as did some talking therapies. But what really helped me was the non-judgemental, welcoming inclusiveness and empathic environment created by everyone at Chestnut. It provides a sense of belonging and safety in the ‘real world’ and gives the volunteers literally a lifeline. I have seen many, many people be helped in different ways at Chestnut.
Whether you’re a customer or volunteer, Chestnut Nursery is such a special place. Come visit us and see for yourself, you’ll be impressed. Purchasing our wonderful plants will help support the nursery in continuing to grow, helping many other people who are struggling with mental health conditions to be in a healing, sheltered work environment and to be themselves.