Meaningful real-work experience with Sustainable Sussex has been life-changing for a Worthing man recovering from psychosis.
Gary Divall, 58, was in a locked unit in Kent for nearly four years before moving to Shepherd House, a recovery unit in Brighton Road.
Through Natalie Rowlands, senior occupational therapist, he was put in touch with the community garden project, which launched at Worthing Leisure Centre and now also occupies land on the Sompting Estate, including Sussex Chilli Farm.
Since he started working there five months ago, Gary has made new friends and found a new purpose.
Natalie said: “It has been quite life-changing for him. He has got a routine and it’s given him a meaningful activity which he really enjoys and takes pride in. He has made new friends and really has a sense of purpose and achievement.
“It is a great success story, having been in hospital for years. Gary volunteers three days a week and also helps out at the markets, selling produce at the weekend.”
Sustainable Sussex provides education and employment for people who find access to the workplace difficult, including those with learning disabilities, mental health difficulties, refugees and the retired. The projects it runs reduce isolation and encourage interaction.
Keith Colin, founder and project leader, said: “We are learning together. We only work because we have mixed-needs groups. We all support each other, it is really empowering.
“We get a lot from Gary being here. He has all these skills and he is very strong. Gary is such a grafter.
“We have learned we all bring something different. I started this because I had chronic pain and mental health issues over the years. I know that I have to keep active.”
Gary is currently helping to build a deck for the new shelter at the chilli farm, having previously single-handedly dug a massive hole for a soakaway.
He said: “It has done me a world of good. I have always been an outdoors person. I don’t stop. Liane asked me to clear all the brambles and I cleared the whole lot.
“Keith got me involved with markets and I like helping there. It brings you out and you get experience with agriculture. I thoroughly enjoy being in the countryside.”
Liane Webb founded The Sustainable Mind as a Sustainable Sussex project in 2016, having followed a career in forensic mental health in the criminal justice system.
She teaches mindfulness and runs meditation sessions with the team, which benefits everyone. Liane said they were all learning together.
She explained: “This has been the first year of vegetable growing here. We have really been experimenting with what grows where and had some success and some failures.
“We have just introduced sheep to the new community farm we are developing at the bottom of Test Road, near Hamble Recreation Ground.”
Visit sustainablesussex.org for more information.