Two social and horticultural therapy specialists who took part in the Co-operative College’s Together Enterprise scheme are planning a co-operative.
Hayley Watson and Michelle Garrity met in 2018 while working for mental health charity Mind, and decided to create a social enterprise to provide specialised horticultural therapy and improve the health and wellbeing of the local community.
The organisation, Get up and Grow, provides therapy through gardening to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and tackle social isolation.
But the paperwork needed to get the co-op started was a challenge. Through Together Enterprise – a Rochdale scheme run by the College and funded by the Co-op Group – they attended a business course, which covered creating a business plan, marketing, social media planning, social enterprise business models, presentation skills and HR.
“Having a dedicated mentor is very reassuring for any new start up,” said Ms Watson, “They are there to listen to any issues you may be having, provide business advice and always make sure you are put in touch directly with a specialist at the Co-op College who can provide expert advice .
“This has been invaluable when we’ve been struggling to get up to speed with the latest social media developments, and further advice on social enterprise business models.”
The pair registered their venture as a limited company in April 2019 but are now turning it into a co-operative. Ms Watson said the co-operative model sits perfectly with her ethos. “It just seems the fair way of doing things.”
Get Up and Grow started its first project two months ago and is now providing horticultural training, therapeutic garden design and growing and food workshops. Current projects include delivering a wildflower seed ball making workshop at Dr Kershaw’s Hospice in Oldham and Growing Gracefully Together Workshops.
It is also running 12 weekly sessions for those aged 50 and over at Smallbridge Library in Rochdale. Participants learn to create wildflower seed balls, plant spring and summer flower containers and grow herbs.
Ms Garrity said: “Although there were a number of community gardens in our local areas of Rochdale and Oldham, there wasn’t anybody providing specialised horticultural therapy so we decided to set up a business that could provide this service. We also deliver nature-based workshops for vulnerable people, horticultural training and therapeutic garden design consultation.”
The two think the initiative could lead to community referral – a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. A similar model is being used by the Lambeth GP Food Co-op in London, which is also putting social prescribing in action.
Ms Garrity added: “We want everyone in our local community to have access to growing opportunities, to meet new people and generally have fun planting and being outdoors.
“We also plan to provide clinical horticultural therapy interventions to local GPs, our local NHS and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) as well as basic horticultural training to vulnerable adults. It’s fair to say that we love what we do.”