Garden Organic's Master Gardener prison programme praised by independent watchdog

An independent watchdog has today praised the “steady and marked” progress of HMP Rye Hill Prison in Northamptonshire, home of Garden Organic’s horticultural intervention programme, Rye Hill Master Gardener Project. The Garden Project, which is delivered by the charity’s Master Gardener programme, works in conjunction with the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Team (DART) was praised for enthusing and engaging the prisoners involved in the project.

Garden Organic’s horticultural intervention programme was set up at HMP Rye Hill in 2013 to provide an environment to support offenders who have a background of drug misuse, with the aim of assisting their recovery, wider health and well-being.

HMP Rye Hill’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) reports that the movement of hundreds of prisoners over a three-month period was handled professionally, decently and without significant incident.

Robin Baxter, Prison Co-ordinator, Master Gardener Programme has worked on the project since its inception and says: “I arrived at Rye Hill with no preconceptions of how the garden should look. I wanted to help the prisoners create a recovery garden that belonged to them. What has been achieved is amazing, a beautiful garden full of flowers and vegetables that has helped so many individuals."

“The garden, like the people it has helped, has taken time and had many challenging moments but the rewards have been great. Every individual has contributed to different aspects of the recovery garden and this in turn has helped them to deal with many different challenging personal problems. I am so proud of what has been achieved and the progress that people have made while working on them, assisting them to grow with it."

Garden Organic has been at the forefront of horticultural therapy, launching the Growth Project, at the charity’s Head-quarters at Ryton Organic Gardens, near Coventry, in 1990. The ‘Growth Project’ gives people with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to garden organically in a supportive and caring environment.

Steve Thomson, Operations Director says: "Garden Organic understands the difference organic horticultural therapy makes in transforming people’s lives and we are all extremely proud of the results and the positive impact the prison programme has, had on participants’ recovery. This is the first time we have adapted a Master Gardener programme to operate in a prison setting and we are looking to expand the programme to other establishments in the near future.”

HMP Rye Hill’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has full access to prisoners, the building, staff and management and is charged with reporting annually on how the prison is meeting the standards and requirements placed on it. The Board also highlights that 40 per cent of prisoners at Rye Hill are now aged 50 or over and that the prison’s population, regime and activities have changed after the prison was re-purposed. While violence at the prison is down, monitors report that there is a greater workload in healthcare and more demand for staff to perform bed-watches and end-of-life care.

Responding to today’s report, Richard Stedman, G4S Director for HMP Rye Hill, says: “It has been a challenging year for Rye Hill and I am encouraged that today’s report recognises the commitment and hard work of the team in re-configuring the prison. The dedicated and professional staff group has continued to innovate throughout these changes, which now see us rehabilitating some very challenging offenders. I am particularly proud of our partnership with Garden Organic to implement the ‘Master Gardener’ programme to help tackle substance misuse, which has been evaluated by Coventry University.

You can download a copy of the Coventry University’s report An Horticultural Intervention with Substance Misusing Prisoners here.

Monday, 14 September 2015