TWIGS (Therapeutic Work In Gardening in Swindon) is a community gardens project that was founded in November 1997 by Anne Billingham with the aim of helping people improve their mental health through engaging in gardening, craft and woodcraft activities. Anne recognised the therapeutic benefits that interaction with nature can harness, and thus set up TWIGS in order to provide facilities to allow those who suffer from mental health issues to experience such benefits.
TWIGS originally operated from a different site and was co-ordinated by a small group of volunteers who helped provide therapeutic activities to around 8 people. However, it was in 1999 that TWIGS secured the current site that it operates from today. The project is currently managed by a team of 5 paid workers as well as 30 volunteers who help enable the delivery of the service. The site is situated in Cheney Manor Industrial Estate in Swindon and currently consists of 8 gardens as well as dedicated craft and woodcraft studio spaces. The gardens provide a welcome touch of greenery within a predominately urban area. When relocating to the current site, a key challenge that they were presented with was the repurposing and revitalising of a previously neglected area that has now been developed into a range of vibrant community gardens.
Funding for the project comes from a diverse range of sources. A core grant from Swindon Borough Council originally funded around 50% of running costs. However, successive 3-year grants from the Big Lottery have proven crucial in expanding the project. Furthermore, Zurich Community Trust also supports the project and provide a healthy injection of external funding. The project is also partially self-funded, with income generated from a contract gardening service that they provide as well as a small entrance fee for public visits to the gardens. A volunteering fundraising arm known as “Friends of TWIGS” also provides funding for the project.
The success of the project can be measured by its longevity as it prepares to celebrate 20 years of service in 2017. Thanks to the successive expansion of the project, TWIGS now provides therapy to around 120 people each year. Following this success, TWIGS has also taken on running “The Olive Tree Cafe” in partnership with the Friends of TWIGS trust. The cafe provides a great move-on opportunity for people who have used the TWIGS service to get back into work and improve their confidence and self-esteem.
Image: The National Gardens Scheme © 2016 (pending permission)