Mental health charity looks forward to life after pandemic - PKF Francis Clark
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Mental health charity looks forward to life after pandemic

A Dorset charity which uses the power of gardening to restore mental wellbeing is aiming to help more people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic after branching out into online plant sales.

Over the past year, around 200 people with severe and enduring mental illness have enjoyed the benefits of therapeutic horticulture by volunteering in a supportive environment at Cherry Tree Nursery in Bournemouth and Chestnut Nursery in Poole.

Both sites were forced to close during lockdown but have since reopened with strict safety measures in place. The successful launch of an online shop and click-and-collect service has also enabled the nurseries to continue raising vital funds, and the charity is now looking to expand this service.

From left: Julie, chairman James Robinson, Gerhard, manager Andrew Verreck and Nick at Chestnut Nursery

James Robinson, partner and head of the Poole office of PKF Francis Clark, has taken over from Martin Stewart as chairman of Sheltered Work Opportunities Project (SWOP), the charity which runs both nurseries.

We want to help as many people in our community as possible, while breaking down the stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis

Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, James said: “Martin has made an incredible contribution to our charity for over 30 years, most recently as chairman. The past year has been challenging for SWOP, like all organisations, but our staff, volunteers, friends and supporters have pulled together amazingly well to adapt to new ways of working, including setting up our first online shop.

“We’re especially grateful for all the support we have received from our loyal customers, and in the form of grants and donations, which enabled us to survive the winter.

Manager Andrew Verreck, left, and chairman James Robinson at Chestnut Nursery

“It’s been a very encouraging start to this year, and we’re looking forward to a strong summer bedding season. We want to help as many people in our community as possible, while breaking down the stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis.”

James added: “Chestnut Nursery is close to our office and I first learned about the charity’s work when I popped in to buy plants on my lunchtime walks. In December 2013 I became a trustee and since then I’ve seen and heard first-hand the benefits our volunteers and friends gain from working at the nursery, in terms of skills, confidence and self-esteem.

“I’m passionate about raising awareness of the benefits of therapeutic horticulture, and mental health issues more widely. As a business community, it’s important that we understand mental health affects everyone and find ways to support our staff and colleagues, especially as the pandemic is impacting on all our lives.

Manager Tish Borrowman and chairman James Robinson at Cherry Tree Nursery

“Chestnut Nursery and Cherry Tree Nursery offer a range of volunteering opportunities, from potting to weeding and working in the shop, and I want everyone to know we’re here to help.”

SWOP has also welcomed Maria Seabright, finance director of Greendale Construction, as the charity’s newest trustee. Maria was keen to get involved, having initially been a customer before learning more about the charity when Greendale built the shop at Chestnut Nursery in 2019.

More information can be found at

FEATURING: James Robinson
From day one of his training in October 1988, James has been involved with engineering and manufacturing clients which he is as passionate about now… read more
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