Matt Woodruff, Horticulture Skills Manager, shares his work supporting St Mungo’s clients through Putting Down Roots.
Before joining St Mungo’s, Matt had a variety of jobs including garden designer and horticulture teacher – he believes his current role is the most rewarding so far.
What is Putting Down Roots?
Putting Down Roots is a horticultural therapy and training project, using gardening as a tool to help people in their recovery. It has been taking place for 21 years – we had been due to celebrate 20 years in 2020!
How does Putting Down Roots help clients* in their recovery journey?
Putting Down Roots helps to build people’s self-esteem, confidence and sociability.
It establishes a routine by asking participants to commit to attending regular sessions, and taking responsibility in caring for plants. Learning to nurture something else helps people to learn to nurture themselves, and there is a parallel between the growth and development of plants and the growth and development of people.
Putting Down Roots can be an up and down journey, with set-backs and recovering from things going wrong. The cyclical nature of gardening can teach a wider message about positive outcomes coming after cold spells.
How do clients find out about Putting Down Roots?
A client may be told about Putting Down Roots via their key worker or another client who has been involved. Clients fill out an application form, and the Putting Down Roots team then make an assessment to ensure the client would be suitable and safe to participate, and at the appropriate stage of their recovery journey to do so.
Clients can take part in Putting Down Roots for up to two years, before being encouraged to move on to another activity to make space for someone else. This can be difficult as people enjoy the programme so much!
Is Putting Down Roots an accessible programme?
It is very accessible! Putting Down Roots is open to all clients and we can assign tasks depending on physicality, for example a participant can sow seeds or do digging, and we have raised beds for people who can’t bend over.
In addition to our permanent sites in Bristol and London, we are doing in-reach work in hostels to encourage new recruits who may not feel comfortable travelling to a project site. People may feel comfortable participating in the garden of their accommodation project initially, to build up their confidence.
What outcomes do you expect to see from Putting Down Roots?
The small things can be the biggest achievement. Simply leaving a room or quitting a substance can be a subtle way in which people have turned their lives around.
Everyone has a unique recovery journey, and therefore will have different outcomes from Putting Down Roots. For some people, employment or retraining may be the ultimate goal. For others, it may be feeling comfortable and confident in joining another community group as a volunteer. For others, it is regaining confidence and managing to work as part of a team.
We build our own community within St Mungo’s and seeing the change in people’s outlook is very powerful.
What has been the impact on the Coronavirus pandemic?
There has been a massive impact – the initial lockdown in March 2020 meant that the programme could not run and the gardens quickly became out of control. Again, there can be an analogy between people’s lives spiralling due to the pandemic in the same way as the gardens.
We were allowed to resume at the end of summer, and it has been a start-stop process since then. Putting Down Roots has recently resumed however the rule of 6 means that only four clients and two trainers can participate in a session at the moment. We are looking forward to welcoming more clients back when it is safe to do so.
We always encourage new recruits and are currently seeing massive demand for Putting Down Roots with a waiting list of clients wishing to take part. I think lockdown has contributed to this – people want to be taking part in a physical activity in new surroundings.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is getting to see a tangible difference in people in a very short period of time. In about six weeks you can really notice a person’s confidence increasing, and the feedback we receive from clients is great – they wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t enjoy it.
The transformations are amazing and it feels like a privilege to be part of that.
*Clients are people who use our services, for example, some are residents in our hostels and/or use our Recovery College to gain skills and confidence after homelessness.
Putting Down Roots is funded by our generous supporters including corporate partners Barratt Developments and Jo Malone London. Find out more about our partnerships and how you can get involved here.
Donate to help us fund more programmes like Putting Down Roots.