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Will’s Story: Gardening at the Escape Project is helping me manage stress

28 April 2022

It’s currently national stress awareness month, which is a good excuse for us all to discuss how to manage our stress levels after a difficult few years.  

Here we join Will, who volunteers at our Escape Programme’s allotment and orchard, as he tells us how he learnt to slow down and appreciate the natural world around him in order to de-stress. 

I first joined the Escape programme nearly ten years ago after a bad experience moving house.  

I have Aspergers, which can make it difficult when things change and I don’t have time to prepare properly.  

In this case it felt like a million little changes: I was moving away from my sister and a lot of my friends and I was changing my whole environment. 

I had a sort of personal crisis after that where I felt very isolated and struggled with distinguishing the days from each other so, once I felt a little better, I sought help from my autism representative from the local council.  

We discussed a longer-term recovery plan, and they suggested I try the Escape project, telling me it combined an allotment space and gardening with a bit of socialising.  

I was open-minded and told them I’d do anything for my recovery, which is how I found myself visiting the project for a taster session. 

It’s funny as I remember being driven up the tight road to the allotment on that first day and in my gut, something was saying that it already felt like coming home – It was almost like a calling.  

Sure enough, I liked the environment and the work and got on with the Family Action staff straight away.  

I thought “this would be a good place to spend a few years before moving on”… The fact that I’m still here should tell you about the impact it’s had on me and my recovery!  

I think it works on two levels – one visible and one invisible.  

On one hand, it’s good to keep busy and it’s therapeutic to do the actual work: gardening is not a quick activity and you have to slow your mind down.  

“It’s good to keep busy and it’s therapeutic to do the actual work: gardening is not a quick activity and you have to slow your mind down. ”

You can’t get from A to B within a day, as things take time to grow, so you have to relax the body and the mind a little … It’s rewarding to see something built piece by piece and it also gives you a lot more time to think. 

I particularly enjoy pruning the apple trees in winter and cultivating the fruit and vegetables; It’s a waiting game but it’s such a joy to see the fruits of your labour.  

As good as these visible benefits are, however, it’s the “invisible” aspect of the programme – the social and emotional work – that I treasure the most. 

A lot of people here have had “their inner home” damaged in some way and the programme rebuilds that inner home brick by brick. 

We do that together here, by helping each other and giving back to our community: others build you up so you can do the same to others in turn.  

That’s why it’s so popular – I was coming two times a week before the pandemic but had to cut down to once a week as we couldn’t fit everyone in.  

I’ve been here a long time and put a lot of energy into learning on the horticulture course. I essentially memorised it and so when the next season came round the team asked me to work as a teaching assistant.  

I wasn’t sure at first as I was still very fresh in terms of my own personal crisis, and I was worried about my reliability and suitability. When you take a leadership role you need certain skills such as an ability to be patient, and a desire to be empathetic.  

But I loved it and the experience helped me to build even deeper relationships; there’s a real comradery here and I feel at peace at Escape.  

It’s well hidden and you don’t hear cars or people… It almost feels like an island, and that’s part of what makes it so special. 

If you feel like you need to discuss the stresses acting upon your life with someone then why not contact our free FamilyLine service for information, guidance and support? You can also read more about our Escape Project here.