Guild Park, opened in 1999, is a medium secure mental healthcare hospital on the edge of Preston, with 500 staff and around 160 service users. The site was historically occupied by a Victorian asylum, which became the largest psychiatric hospital in Britain, with grounds that included three farms, a church and a railway station. Fragments of these original green spaces, such as an orchard, remain part of the present hospital grounds. Staff describe the site as “wrapped around in greenery”: there are thickets of trees at its edges and deer and rabbits are frequent visitors.

Guild Park’s flourishing Grow Your Own Project, launched in 2013, offers both service users and staff a chance to learn horticultural skills while also supplying the hospital kitchens with fresh organic produce at a reduced price. It has poly tunnels, raised beds, a chicken coop, an aviary, a pond and a covered training area. There is an aquaponic growing system for producing salads without soil, acquired with the proceeds from making and selling home grown willow sculptures at Christmas markets.

The Grow Your Own Project regularly takes part in local flower and vegetable shows and has won many awards. Most of the growing is done by service users, with several employed through the project on fixed-term contracts, and some gaining horticultural qualifications. This experiential aspect of the scheme is especially valued, since it can be difficult to find opportunities for patients in recovery to be involved in community work as they prepare to leave Guild Park.

Steve, a community gardener at Guild Lodge's Grow Your Own site in Preston
Steve, a community gardener at Guild Park’s Grow Your Own site in Preston. Photo: Miriam Dobson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Produce grown at Guild Lodge's allotment
Produce grown at Guild Park’s allotment. Photo: Miriam Dobson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

There is a second horticultural area with a greenhouse within the hospital’s secure area. This is part of a Skills Learning Centre run by Occupational Therapy and has a technical instructor and service users coming in daily, with additional support from ward staff. There is also a further garden area with raised beds, which is part of a Therapeutic Resource Centre, another facility run by Occupational Therapy within the secure area.

Each of the hospital wards has its own garden, and in some of the newer buildings, these are designed-in as spacious curved courtyards, equipped with awnings, seating areas and garden games. Since 2018 staff and service users have taken part in ‘Guild in Bloom’, a seasonal three-month competition between the wards to improve these spaces. Change is recorded with ‘before and after’ photographs, and the scheme has been successful in building shared ownership and a sense of community.

Ward garden at Guild Lodge
Ward garden at Guild Park. Photo: Carey Newson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
The Grow your Own site at Guild Lodge, Preston
The Grow your Own site at Guild Park, Preston. Photo: Guild Park. All rights reserved.

The Trust’s workspace walking initiative aims to support staff wellbeing by creating a positive ethos around informal walking at work. The idea is that, where feasible, employees should feel free to take a short walking break, either alone or with others, during the working day.

The concept has caught on: in a 2019 staff survey conducted as part of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare’s Space to Breathe study, 39% of respondents said that when taking a break from work they regularly walked outdoors and noticed the site’s gardens and green spaces, while 26% had taken informal walks arranged with other staff.

A member of staff explained: “What is good about the walks is that it just takes one person to email/ring around the office to get a few people to go out for some fresh air (usually between two and six of us). We do try not to talk about work whilst we are walking, as it is a good break from our desks, but it is also a good opportunity to de-stress or vent a little if you have been having a particularly bad day.”

The hospital’s energetic tree planting activities won it an NHS Forest award for the ‘most trees planted for the NHS Forest’ in 2021. Staff and service users planted 1,000 saplings to create a coppice woodland of willow, providing a beautiful space for walks and supporting nature in nearby wetland areas.

A further 1,000 NHS Forest trees were donated to the project in 2022.

Top photo: Guild in Bloom at Guild Park. All rights reserved.

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