A woman with learning difficulties is wowing house-mates and staff at the residential service where she lives in Kent, with her previously unsuspected horticultural skills.
Twenty-five-year-old Alice Hoad never misses a chance to visit the newly-renovated vegetable patch of Rhyme House in Sittingbourne to inspect the fruit and vegetables she has planted herself, and water them or do some essential weeding.
Before this summer Alice – who has autism and exhibits echolalia – had no experience of gardening since childhood, but staff at Rhyme House correctly identified it as a new hobby that was likely to appeal to her.
Service manager, Becky De Rose, said: “We needed a strategy to reduce the amount of time Alice was spending at the computer screen, and her co-key worker was confident that gardening would appeal to her so long as we were careful how we familiarised her with it.
“She was right, and since Alice became engaged in growing her own plants she hasn’t looked back.
“She has grown tomatoes, cucumbers and beans from seed which have been used for our house meals, using grow-bags and her own plot in the garden.
“All this even though conditions have been less than ideal this year, what with a slightly late start and then the very hot weather.
“Despite that, Alice is getting so much pleasure from seeing her plants grow and spotting the veg as they appear and ripen.
“Next year we’re planning to extend the beds, provide more new ones, and get started earlier in the season – our challenge then might be how to persuade Alice to come back indoors.”
In addition to gardening and computing, staff at Rhyme House – a service run by the Regard Group – also support Alice to attend regular swimming sessions and go shopping. She especially likes books, buying a new book from her local charity shop most days.
The Regard Group supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and acquired brain injuries nationwide and is a leading advocate for improving people’s life chances by developing their personal skills and broadening their horizons.