“I want to bring pleasure back to people’s lives after lockdown”

Although it’s been difficult, there’s always a glimmer of hope at the end.

I’m a Southdown Volunteer and have been managing the garden at Preston Park Recovery Centre in Brighton and Hove for a number of years with an assistant who runs the vegetable patch.

I volunteer there about four times a week and spend three or four hours a day gardening depending on how much work there is to do. I love making the garden beautiful, not only for myself but for everyone that comes to the centre. What gives me joy and pleasure is making the garden as nice as possible for people to have a nice place to enjoy and give them a bit of brightness in their day. I feel privileged that I’ve been allowed to do that actually.

Since the lockdown I’ve had to stop gardening. Working in the garden has been an oasis for me with regards to my mental health and so to have that taken away was quite a shock to start with and the first few weeks were extremely hard. The other activities that were part of my routine were also stopped so I’ve had to adapt myself quite a bit because my mental health did get worse. 

I have had a lot of support. My Support Worker at Preston Park Recovery Centre has been ringing me most weeks and I’ve had my Housing Officer ringing me every week to check in too. I’ve felt very supported. Southdown’s Volunteer Coordinator has also been keeping in touch with us volunteers. I feel very lucky that people have been checking in every week and it also gives me the chance to say if I’m not feeling so good.

I’ve missed seeing my friends at the centre, chatting with people, having a laugh, and working in the garden at the same time. I miss people stopping by and complimenting the garden, the kind words and interaction.

The garden has been a part of my life for many years so I can’t wait to get back in and get going. I miss the birds – our robin and blackbird who would come regularly. I miss being back in nature.

I want to bring pleasure back to people’s lives after lockdown. I know it will be a big challenge because a lot of things will have got out of hand but I like a challenge and I look forward to making it as beautiful for people as it was before.

I’m also looking forward to when the gyms open again because that was my other oasis. My gym is small and people know me there. It’s like a community. I’d go in, get my stuff done, and then come out feeling better for it because exercise is good for my mental health.

I’ve been dubious about going out on my own for walks and that has impeded my physical exercise, but I found a reasonable DVD online that has three 15 minute sessions that entail a lot of balancing exercises, lunges, and things. Things I can do in my small flat. I’ve found that pretty good and because I try and do it at a set time each day it’s like a class which also makes me feel better. I’m doing something rather than nothing.

I’ve also been doing quite a lot of painting – working in watercolours, experimenting with backgrounds, and mixing paints. I’m not a real artist but I have a go, apply myself, and that’s the main thing. It helps relax me which means that I can deal with my mental health better. It’s such a good thing to do and it’s been really helpful. I can pick it up and put it down, do as much as I want and then do something else.

Before the lockdown I managed to buy some DVDs and they’ve helped concentrate the mind a bit. I also listen to music – I’ve always liked house and dance music and that gets me in the mood when I need to clean the house. It can also drown out some of the voices I hear if they get bad and I find music can help change the atmosphere around me.

Being at home has given me more time to read my Kindle. I’m interested in the First and Second World Wars and I’ve managed to read books on these which has been a positive thing. Before, I was too busy to do that.

In the last few weeks I’ve met one or two friends a couple of times which has made all the difference. Before that I hadn’t seen anybody for weeks and weeks and weeks. I found meeting them even more valuable because I appreciated it so much more, it seemed so much more special. That’s been a real godsend.

At first I would meet them on the doorstep but then I was encouraged to meet them at the Rose Garden in Preston Park and at The Level. I’ve still not been able to go out further by myself unless I’m going to meet somebody, but at least I’m meeting someone which is an improvement.

There have been some days where I haven’t felt like doing anything, but it’s normal to have good and bad days. These are strange times and you have to look at tomorrow as another day.

Although it’s been difficult, there’s always a glimmer of hope at the end. It won’t stay like this forever. Things will change. We have to look forward to the day when we can do those things we haven’t been able to do and keep that in mind.

Preston Park Recovery Centre is currently providing a telephone support service to clients with mental health support needs and a range of online activities in adherence with the social distancing advice set out by the Government.