On a sunny Friday morning in July, Luxury Topping had the pleasure of visiting the Horticultural Therapy Garden at Headley Court, a Military Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey.
Headley Court has been a military base since the Second World War. It is now the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, a nationally recognised centre of excellence that provides intensive, specialist and inpatient rehabilitation for more complex injuries such as amputee and neurological patients. It serves all divisions of the forces.
Kat Craig, the Deputy Complex Trauma Manager explained how Headley works; “there are about 200 patients present at Headley on any working day and the patients are paid to rehabilitate, it is in effect, their job”. Some live in Headley full time, some take it in cycles with a period of staying in and a period recovering at home. Each day patients are given a strict timetable, as they would in normal circumstances in the forces. They meet at 8.15am for parade and thereafter follow their timetables to various Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and other such sessions. One of these sessions is Horticultural Therapy.
Headley Court itself is a beautiful stately home built in 1889, nestled in an area of outstanding natural beauty with exceptional gardens. Horticultural Therapy has been a key element of the rehabilitation journey at Headley for the last three years.
Headley Court’s Horticultural Therapy is the brainchild of Major Pete le Feuvre. Originally placed in Headley as Head of Rehabilitation in his capacity as Military Physiotherapist, Major Pete le Feuvre’s area of expertise is getting soldiers to walk again. What started with the restoration of a disused Greenhouse – now appropriately named the “Le Feuvre Hot House”, has continued to gather momentum. When he joined Headley he sought to make use of the grounds Headley has to offer. He said “the garden offers a healing space, it gets soldiers doing things without thinking about doing them. The green space encourages to you to look beyond yourself.”
Following the clear success of the programme they brought in the charity HighGround, set up by Anna Baker Cresswell, to use Headley Court as one of their projects. HighGround always works in walled gardens as it symbolises safety for the patients. Anna says, “There is a lot of research to show that until people feel relaxed, they gain no benefit of any intervention and the feeling of security and the ‘clear view’ engendered by a walled garden and its secluded atmosphere, are very special elements to the success of the Horticultural Therapy we deliver”.
The programme has continued to grow and is now run by Head Horticultural Therapist Carol Sales. Horticultural Therapy is an holistic tool, it helps the psychological and physical well-being of the patients. It is also serves as a commemorative tool allowing the soldier space and time to grieve not only for the loss of their comrades but also in certain cases for the loss of their limb. Carol says that the usual response is to distract yourself from the pain but when you have time in the garden you have time to reflect on it.
Gina Haworth, Assistant to Carol, tells us that patients plant everything from seed, they take it in cycles to nurture the plants as often they are in a rotation of staying in-between the residences at Headley and their homes. Gina comments that when embarking on Horticultural Therapy many of the patients, who are predominantly men, don’t believe that they’ll get into gardening. After a few sessions many of them discover their love of horticulture and the thrill of seeing the seeds they planted grow into an array of plants, fruit and vegetables. “The Bangalore Torpedo Chilli plant is a particular favourite with the men” says Gina!
Whilst there, we met Dave, one of the in-patients. Dave had been in Headley for six months, he tells us that he was injured in an explosion, which left him unable to walk. The day we visited was the first day since he has been at Headley that he has been out of his wheelchair, to say his determination was inspiring would be an understatement. Dave is a huge advocate for Headley’s Horticultural Therapy. He says his mental health has progressed so much more due to his garden sessions.
Emma Willis, of Jermyn Street, has worked extensively with Headley. She says “I have been visiting Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Hospital since 2009, measuring the injured patients for a complimentary bespoke luxury Swiss cotton shirt and regimental ebony walking sticks, engraved with servicemen’s initials and regiment on a silver band. It is a privilege to meet these courageous young men and women, and the incredible medical staff who support them and bring them back to strength”.
We can’t speak highly enough of our visit to Headley Court. It was heartwarming to see the support network, incredible staff and innovative rehabilitation work that Headley offers. As we remember the Service men and women who have given their lives for their country at the various Remembrance Day services throughout the country last weekend, let’s pay tribute to those who are working to overcome their injuries and applaud the many people who helping make this possible.
To donate please visit HighGround-uk.org
Headley Court image courtesy Peter Haslam, all other images courtesy Anna Baker Cresswell.