Kira Hardy – A Day In The Life

The following article was written for Growth Point Winter 2018 – A Day in the Life of Kira Hardy.

 

Kira has been the Garden Manager at The Therapy Garden for the past year, this is her story.

I’ve always had an interest in gardening and started my horticultural career after leaving school, undertaking a course in Practical Habitat Management.

Various other courses and work experience then led me to run my own business in garden design, construction and maintenance. When a medical condition impacted my ability to physically continue, I made a step into the Criminal Justice System as a Recovery Worker in a jail, supporting inmates with the transition back into the community.

The combination of my love of gardening and the enjoyment I felt supporting people, led me to look for roles in Therapeutic Horticulture and I found The Therapy Garden.

The Therapy Garden is a horticulture and education charity that uses gardening to generate positive change. We work with adults and teenagers with additional educational needs, physical disabilities and mental health challenges and offer social and therapeutic horticulture and interventional education opportunities. We aim to help clients improve psychologically, physically and socially and provide the opportunity to enter into further education, training and employment.

A typical day starts around 8am where we develop the plan for the day based on who is attending and their skill level and interests. We also start planning for the following week so we can ensure continuity for the clients by creating a working plan that links activities each week, retaining client focus.

The clients and volunteers start to arrive and prepare for the day. It’s a bit of a juggling act matching clients, volunteers and tasks but when we get it right we find that wonderful working relationships soon form, which is of great therapeutic value to all involved. This is particularly true with our dementia clients and the consistency of working with the same volunteer each week is extremely beneficial to them.

We have a tea break mid-morning where everyone gathers together – we have people with physical disabilities and emotional disorders with dementia clients and SEN students. Although this has its challenges, the social element is really important to us here and gives everyone a chance to make new friends and feel included. We find that the melting pot of individuals with such varying abilities is a much more accurate representation of the world outside, rather than grouping people according to specific needs or diagnosis.

At lunch, produce from the garden is taken and used in the kitchen to create a dish everyone can share, crumble is a majority favourite! We find this a great way to bring everyone together and have some common ground sharing the food that we have grown together. It also provides a good opportunity for our ‘Grow to Work’ project (supporting young adults with SEN into the workplace) to learn a new skill in the kitchen and make the link between plants grown in the garden and food on their plate.

After lunch, tasks are generally more low key and less physically demanding, giving clients the opportunity to wind down and tidy up before heading home after some short feedback on their day. I also debrief with the volunteers to discuss how the clients got on that day, if they had any difficulties we need to be aware of or any safeguarding issues. It’s important that I know all relevant information so we can develop tasks appropriately and ensure we have the correct support in place for each person.

Activities for our clients are dependent on their individual needs and range from watering plants to building fences and everything in between. Our Green School offers school age students with additional educational needs the opportunity to achieve an entry level City & Guilds qualification in ‘Skills for Working Life: Horticulture’ so their activities are closely aligned with tasks that support this.

Craft is also a popular activity and clients can make items to take home or to sell in our shop. This develops their creativity and fine motor skills as well as increasing confidence and promoting social benefits.

The biggest challenge I face on a professional level is coming to terms with the fact that I can’t be an expert in every issue our clients have. We have such a range of disabilities and conditions, and clients with combinations of issues, that it would be impossible to have a full understanding of them all. However, it’s a source of constant learning for me which I find very rewarding and the more time I spend with clients, the deeper my understanding becomes of their needs.

The volunteers also need to be carefully managed. We rely heavily on them, there are over 50 volunteers and only ten staff members (most of whom are part-time) so ensuring they feel supported at all times and get to do activities they enjoy is paramount.

Our Star Project, mainstream teenagers with emotional or behavioural difficulties, can be quite challenging and I sometimes have to deal with issues between them. It can also be a challenge to ensure the clients are getting the most of out of their time with us and it is beneficial for them in a physical or emotional way.

Remembering they are here for a therapeutic experience could get lost in the practicalities of running a garden and I constantly remind myself that the garden is here to serve the clients, not the other way round. This can be hard to do when there is a growing list of gardening jobs to do but ultimately, the garden can always wait a bit longer – the clients are the main focus in everything we do.

Seeing a client achieve something new because of being with us is so rewarding. It may be as small as making eye contact during a conversation or a dementia client remembering he planted the parsnips he then took home, but it is the reason I am here and why I love the job I do. Just watching everyone happy at work in the garden, getting involved and enjoying themselves is a highlight of my day.

Everyone’s reason for coming here is different and what they get out of it differs as well. For some, just being able to come for the day is therapeutic enough, others want to be able to have something tangible that they have grown or built or made – seeing the end product is their therapy.

One of my greatest accomplishments is the overall changes I’ve made to the running of the garden and the impact this has had on the clients and volunteers. I am grateful to have a job where I can make even a small difference to someone’s life and being able to see those differences taking place are great moments

If I think back from today to when I first started, I’ve definitely changed the way I work here and my outlook on life in general. I’ve learnt that it’s OK for things not to happen immediately, that things may not go according to plan depending on what kind of day a client is having. I try to slow down and appreciate what is happening around me and notice the small things that often get missed, a small thing to me can be a big achievement for a client and it’s important to me that this is recognised.

Looking forward, we have just been granted planning permission to expand our boundary and bring in additional surrounding land into the centre. The increase in space will allow us to develop new sensory areas, grow more fresh produce to sell in the shop and provide an even better experience for our clients, something we always strive to do.

I recently attended Thrive’s workshop on Garden Design with Disability in Mind and it will be great to use this along with my past knowledge and experience to work alongside our volunteer garden designer. We have already developed a plan to merge the current scrub land and existing garden into a space that works so much better for us. This will be of huge benefit to all our clients and is an exciting new challenge for me to take on, something I am very much looking forward to.

 

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