One of the charities that we are donating London Open Gardens 2021 tickets to, Thrive use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Read below to find out what makes Thrive so special, and why Katy Perceval loves volunteering for them.
Who are you, a little bit about yourself and which charity do you volunteer for?
I’m a freelance journalist – and superfan of all things green! Work-wise, my previous career was 20+ years in communications with John Lewis and Waitrose, which was fun but I got burned out. So when I saw the chance to leave and take a career break to reset my life in 2017, I jumped right in – or should that be right out? Whatever, I was free. Top of my list was becoming a Garden Support Volunteer with Thrive London in Battersea Park.
Why this charity?
Oh goodness, soooo many reasons. I first heard about Thrive through a colleague, who’d been seconded to them through JL’s volunteering scheme. I was intrigued, so once I’d resigned I started digging…. I joined one of Thrive London’s Volunteer Tours to get a hands-on feel for their work and, just as importantly, the team ‘vibe’. I wanted to check that Thrive was a charity where I wouldn’t just be useful, but would also feel I belonged.
Thrive struck a chord with me straight away. I’d already seen first-hand the impact of poor mental health, addiction and dementia on my dad and, for me, being a volunteer was the first step in creating a positive legacy from that sad and difficult experience.
I love that Thrive uses nature and gardening to enable, support and heal – and to have so much fun while that happens, because fun matters when you’re volunteering. I love that Thrive doesn’t judge people on what they can’t do, but focuses on nurturing the ability in disability. And I love that as a weekly volunteer I get to learn so much because of our amazing client gardeners, while discovering some pretty amazing herbs (such as lovage, which I now grow at home).
Why do you volunteer?
I volunteer to help me learn and grow as a human being by working alongside people who may not have had the chances I’ve had in life – or who’ve been dealt a pretty rough hand at a particular time. I went into volunteering with both an open heart and an open mind.
I have such respect for all our client gardeners and their independent spirit. They’ve taught me so much about the crucial difference between ‘helping’ and ‘enabling’, which is at the heart of what Thrive does.
Volunteering at Thrive has also honed my communication skills and given me an insight into the challenges – and opportunities – of living with a learning disability, which I didn’t have before.
Finally, I volunteer because I’ve always loved being part of a small, happy team with a shared purpose – that precious sense of belonging to something good in a world that can feel scary and dark. Thrive London gives me all that, and more.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I’m part of a fab team at Thrive London, led by our Horticultural Therapist Richard, who work alongside our client gardeners sowing seeds, potting on, planting out, weeding, harvesting and cooking (in season, before Covid), sweeping leaves – and so much else besides.
We’re usually outside in the Herb Garden, but if it’s too rainy or cold, we get stuck into other projects together in our workshop or glasshouse – such as drying herbs and bagging them up or prepping plants to go over to Thrive’s retail kiosk on the other side of Battersea Park. Working with the dried lavender and lemon verbena is a particular favourite of mine!
My day is a mix of one-to-one work with clients who need extra support for certain tasks and working in a group as part of the whole team. The social/community aspect of our day is hugely important so it’s as much about listening sensitively to and chatting with clients as it is about getting the gardening ‘done’.
During Covid, as part of our measures to keep everyone safe, I’ve also been the Herb Garden gatekeeper, designated tea lady (to minimise kettle contact) and general sprayer of copious amounts of Dettol on door handles, surfaces and tools! But I’m hoping to be ‘demoted’ from all this as restrictions allow….
What is the best part of volunteering?
As above – being part of a small, happy team with a shared purpose and a real appreciation of what matters in life. Spending time in nature, learning and growing as a person while enabling others. The friendships (within professional boundaries, because of our safeguarding responsibilities) that I’ve built with the rest of the team – the therapists, the client gardeners, their support workers and the volunteers.
It all feels incredibly special. I always get the train home with real joy in my heart.
What came first: an interest in outdoors or volunteering outdoors?
Definitely an interest in outdoors – then the volunteering outdoors. A love of fresh air is in my DNA. I was the child in school who always wanted the classroom window open, no matter the chill outside. I find being in nature both calming and energising, depending on my mood: it’s where I feel most strongly connected to life and a sense of purpose.
I often think nature has all the answers to today’s issues if only we’ll take the time to look and listen. There’s so much we can learn from the way the seasons flow into each other and the cycle of life and death, especially at times (as now) of loss and stress.
Would you recommend volunteering to others?
I already do – all the time! And I stress the value of approaching any chance to do it with an open mind, as well as an open heart.
I’m chuffed that as well as being a Garden Support Volunteer at Battersea, I’m also one of nine national Ambassadors for Thrive. Part of that is raising awareness of our work and highlighting STH’s amazing potential. Its time has come and it’s exciting to be part of something that can – with the right funding and support – really help us nurture a greener, happier and more inclusive future for all.
You can find out more about Thrive via their Website