13th October 2020
Carlyn Kilpatrick runs Norfolk-based social enterprise The Nurture Project, which offers horticultural therapy. Here, she talks lockdown, her lightbulb moment and looking to the future with Harriet Cooper
Like everyone, 2020 has not come without its challenges for Carlyn Kilpatrick. Carlyn runs The Nurture Project, a social enterprise that operates a therapeutic year-round garden project supporting adults living with mild to moderate mental ill health.
It is based at Carlyn’s home in Kettlestone, near Fakenham, where clients are offered Social and Therapeutic Horticulture – the process of using plants and gardening to improve physical and mental health – amongst the house’s beautiful walled garden, orchard, pond area and woodland, as well as at its outreach programme at Wells Community Hospital Trust.
“Our main aim is to help facilitate and promote adult good mental health, with a view to encouraging self-confidence and self-esteem, social interaction and physical mobility,” Carlyn explains. “We want to provide an impartial and safe space in a friendly environment.”
With much of the social enterprise’s work based around face-to-face contact – “client-facing is extremely valuable because you pick up so many little nuances” – when coronavirus swept across the country earlier this year, lockdown could have thrown a spanner in the works.
But thanks to Carlyn’s unwavering dedication and her hard-working team of volunteers, The Nurture Project continued to support its clients via telephone and Zoom, newsletters and monthly gardening packs.
Thankfully, things are gradually returning to normal. The Nurture Project has resumed client-facing work three days a week, and the outreach programme has restarted, though Carlyn is mindful of not rushing things. “There’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty out there still.”
This autumn, Carlyn has also launched a programme called It’s Not Just A Walk In The Park, which takes place in the woodland at Kettlestone. Small groups, led by Carlyn and a volunteer, will be encouraged to walk and talk, engage in meaningful tasks and enjoy insight from visiting experts (apiarists, arborists, botanists…) – all, of course, adhering to government guidelines on social distancing.
“People really enjoy our woodland setting; it’s beautiful and during lockdown we prepared pathways, created clearings and planted woodland species plants. The woods are increasingly playing an important role in our work.”
Carlyn’s energy and enthusiasm is palpable; alongside The Nurture Project, she is also involved with establishing a Green Care initiative for Norfolk, bringing together people and organisations that embrace the natural world. I wonder, does she ever get any downtime? “Weeding or sowing seeds decompresses me, gives me a chance to get back into my space. And I love going to the beach and swimming in the sea.”
Carlyn describes the founding of The Nurture Project as “a gradual journey”. Alongside her training in horticulture and psychotherapy, she also volunteered; at charity Home-Start and then at Thornage Hall – a residential and day care provider for vulnerable adults, where she worked in the gardens. It was then that the first seeds of The Nurture Project were sown.
“I had this slightly harebrained idea that maybe you could marry the horticulture side with the psychotherapy side. I’d also read about Thrive, a national charity providing social and therapeutic horticulture – and that was my lightbulb moment.”
While at Thrive, Carlyn witnessed how gardening could bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.
It was when her father became ill with dementia that she began thinking about doing something similar at Kettlestone. “My father would come over to garden with me every week – it gave my mother a break and my father some independence, as well as engaging him in meaningful and purposeful activities, concentrating on cognitive and motor skills.”
“I learned more about him in those sessions than I had done in a lifetime. It was a huge privilege. Gardening with my father reinforced everything that I wanted to do.”
And so, in October 2016, Carlyn set up The Nurture Project, which continues to grow from strength to strength, even in the face of a pandemic.
“I hope something that has come out of lockdown is that people have connected more with their green or blue spaces. We often treat nature as one entity and ourselves as another; but actually we are all part of the same cycles. It’s about connecting people back. I hope that we can sustain that in some way.”
All photographs taken before lockdown