A men’s gardening group at St Richard’s Hospice has proved a fruitful project, offering men with a life-threatening illness space to relax and meet others facing similar situations.
The group is held each week in the hospice’s serene gardens, offers men under the care of the hospice the opportunity to take time out, take on some light gardening and share their experiences with others.
The group was set up partnership with Prostate Cancer UK and horticulture expert Duncan Coombs – a recently retired lecturer from Pershore College – is on hand to guide men with little or no experience of gardening and help experienced ‘green fingered’ men develop their skills.
There is also time to speak to specialist nurses and doctors or to have complementary therapies.
Vanessa Gibson, Community Team Leader, explained how the group came about; “We noticed that it is predominantly women who attend our support groups and so we decided to set up a group especially for men. There is always a nurse on hand in case anyone feels poorly or wants to talk about his illness. We find that this is a good introduction to the hospice and gives men the opportunity to share their problems, and perhaps prevent them from being alone.”
She added, “The ethos of the group is that sometimes in the midst of hospital appointments, health concerns and treatments, patients may need some space.”
Each week, up to ten men join the informal sessions and take part in gardening related activities which are matched to each person’s level of ability. Already the group has enjoyed a successful crop of new potatoes, tomatoes and salad leaves with lots more growing fast. The session is structured so that there is plenty of time to sit down for a cup of tea and those who would prefer to sit and relax can do so in the group’s dedicated shed.
Duncan Coombs, the volunteer group leader, said; “We thought it would be fun to set up a group so that chaps can get together and do some light gardening, have a cup of tea and a chat. It would give them a break and learn a bit about gardening – some know a little and some have lots of knowledge to share. The group plans their activities week by week, and over the summer have been growing vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce and sweetcorn. It doesn’t really matter how successful the harvest is, it’s the process of tending to the plants that the men find therapeutic.”
Chris Green, left, aged 51 from Droitwich, has a brain tumour and is currently being supported by St Richard’s Hospice at Home service. He has been attending Day Hospice for a year and has been the Men’s Space Group since it started.
Bryan Hodgkins, ( below left)
Aged 81 from Kempsey, also has a long connection with the hospice, having worked as a volunteer in the library. He has prostate cancer and has been attending Day Hospice for the last five months and has completed a course in how to manage the fatigue he feels as a result of his prostate cancer. He has learnt how beneficial it can be to keep a daily diary about how he feels that day. He said this helps to remind him to slow down and to do things when he has more strength. The Men’s Space Group has given him the time to relax and do things at a slower pace.
“I have really enjoyed picking up new skills, such as learning how to prick out seedlings and how to take hard and softwood cuttings. I enjoy coming along to the group as there’s a real sense of friendship and we have a bit of a laugh. It gives us all a break from the serious business of life, but we have the opportunity to share our problems if we want to.”
He said; “I joined the group right from its beginning, and enjoy the camaraderie. Gardening is new to me and I have learnt a lot, for example how to plant tomato seeds and care for the seedlings. We are hoping that the group will be able to meet well into the autumn, but naturally the weather will have the final say. Of course, I don’t tell my wife about the lovely, caring nurses and all the cake – I say we work very hard, but I don’t think she believes me!”
Group members can be given support from other St Richard’s services if they think they will be helpful, including benefits advice, counseling, complementary therapies and time with specialist doctors and nurses.
Louise Jackson, Community Support Services Manager for Prostate Cancer UK said, “40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK. Some face the prospect of their cancer never being cured which can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with. Gardening, being outside and sharing experiences with others who can relate to what you’re going through can be a tremendous comfort to many and we’re thrilled to be involved with the new group with St Richard’s Hospice.”
To join the Men’s Space group the person must have a confirmed life-threatening diagnosis; a South Worcestershire GP and be referred to St Richard’s Hospice. Anyone can refer to the group including patients themselves and hospice staff will liaise with the patient’s GP.
For more information please contact the Gateway Team on 01905 763963