Case study

Freelance horticultural therapist — Leila

Leila completed a social and therapeutic horticulture diploma at Coventry University and now runs a community horticultural therapy project for disabled clients in her Spanish hometown

How did you get your job?

My Spanish hometown was starting a project related to training adults with learning disabilities. This involved setting up a course that allowed trainees to develop agricultural skills to get a job in the sector, enabling them to live more independently. I was recommended as a suitable professional.

My job is to plan the course and its contents, working alongside other horticultural therapists.

What's a typical day like?

My working day runs from 9am to 1pm. Trainees come by bus to the vocational school where the project is based. We have a chat to plan the day and then put on our work clothes. We work for one hour and then have a 30 minute break.

At 11.30am we work for another hour and then finish the day. We perform all the tasks related to growing vegetables in a garden and/or a greenhouse. If it's raining, we work in the greenhouse or in the classroom.

What do you enjoy about your job?

It's immensely satisfying to see how meaningful garden activities can empower people by improving their skills and wellbeing. They have high expectations for getting a job and becoming increasingly independent.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is dealing with the trainees' disabilities and having to guide them in performing the tasks.

Some of them have to build their performance gradually until they get used to the tasks. You, as a therapist, need to be patient and find out the best way of guiding them so they don't get frustrated.

In what way is your diploma relevant?

The diploma has given me the skills to lead a social and therapeutic horticulture project. The course covered elements such as writing a proposal, estimating a budget, planning meaningful activities, considering health and safety issues, identifying clients' needs, preparing an assessment and writing reports.

The diploma also equipped me with the relevant skills to work on and lead a community project and manage people. There is increasing evidence that social and therapeutic horticultural projects improve participants' health and wellbeing.

How has your role developed?

I have learned to use referral information to give activities a focus of purpose and achievement, using a holistic and client-centred approach.

In this job I have to be flexible and aware of clients' different requirements. I have learned to plan and structure tasks according to clients' different abilities, considering health and safety issues and showing them how to carry out tasks. I make sure I give clear instructions and include a demonstration.

The course has given me more confidence and I want to develop this project with people with other disabilities. I am planning to carry out some research too, into social and therapeutic horticulture in Spain.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

Find a project that feels suitable for you and for your skills. Carry out preparation and do some research about clients' disabilities. Lastly, have confidence in your horticultural skills.

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