Muddy Fork, a small horticultural wellbeing charity based in Retford, helps people with a wide range of mental health issues through their journey of recovery. The vast majority of people are referred to the charity through their GP, while others may choose to self refer. John Strafford came to Muddy Fork after spotting a flyer for the charity in the Idle Valley cafe.
He was looking for volunteer work after moving to Retford from the South East following a severe mental breakdown last year.
Having suffered with bipolar disorder since he was 17 and having to deal with what he says is the constant fear and shame that comes with mental illness, John says Muddy Fork is a place he can come to 'without judgement'.
"It's occupational therapy for me, I've had bipolar since I was 17 and throughout my life it's been a cycle of going up and down, of getting a job then losing a job due to my mental
health. Many people don't realise but when you're mentally ill, you make an idiot of yourself. You embarrass yourself at work and then when you get well again you remember all that stuff and
feel ashamed. It knocks your confidence."
John, who spent some time in a mental health hospital in the south of England, says Muddy Fork is the perfect place to rebuild that confidence and a stepping stone to rebuilding his life. "It's literally digging holes and planting plants but it's about the camaraderie. You come here with people who fully understand and there's no judgement. I don't have to worry about being seen as a madman. It's a stepping stone to getting your life back together and getting back into work. I think there should be a place like this outside every psychiatric hospital."
Heather Davidson came to Muddy Fork after being referred through her counselling centre.
She suffers with severe anxiety and depression and says the support she receives at Muddy Fork gives her routine and helps her face the day. She is currently taking part in a #25pushup challenge for the charity, which involves completing 25 push ups every day for 25 days.
"I was referred about a year and a half ago, I see a counsellor frequently and I love being outside so they suggested I come to Muddy Fork. I come here when I'm stressed and either have a quiet session or if I feel I need more support I can join in on a bigger task. I was an inpatient at a hospital for a while and I came here to help me get used to being out. It's crucial for me. There's not much follow up once you leave hospital and counselling is okay but it's not the same as having somewhere to come and do something."
Dom Schad is the head of the charity, which started up as an independent charity back in 2016. He says the benefits of horticulture therapy are wide ranging and vary from person to person.
"From our experience people come with a wide range of needs, some have anxiety, depression, PTSD, paranoid schizophrenia. So what they get out of it really depends on their needs. Some people may only be with us for a few weeks before they find themselves and move on. For others it's a lifeline and we help them maintain their mental health. We see people come here and their improvement means they no longer have to use GP services or take certain medications. For others, they come and we can't really pinpoint what they get out of it but then all of a sudden you'll hear they've got a job, or a new home or a partner. It's really a process of engaging with people to try and identify what their needs are."
In a study conducted by Leeds Beckett University, with the help of the Muddy Fork charity, found that 'environments rich in wildlife,' and increasing people’s contact with them, resulted in improvements to health through increased physical activity, reductions in stress and anxiety, increased positive mood and self-esteem and a better and healthier social life.
That same study also found that the social return on investment in environmental and horticulture programmes targeted at mental health and wellbeing had a value of £6.88 for every £1 invested, for people with low wellbeing at baseline, who were part of a targeted programme and £8.50 for every £1 invested, for people with average to high wellbeing who were part of a nature conservation volunteering programme.
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It has taken place to commemorate 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower to America in 2020.
The county’s wildlife trust and a local charity have teamed up to mark Retford’s pilgrim roots.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Muddy Fork have planted a specially developed apple trees in the therapy garden at Idle Valley Nature Reserve, off North Road.
The tree has been grown to commemorate 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower to America in 2020.
It is part of special project that is the brainchild of horticulturalist and broadcaster John Stirland.
The reserve was one of the very first to request a tree once the project was announced.
Idle Valley Nature Reserve covers over 450 hectares of the Bassetlaw landscape alongside the River Idle - but the tree has been planted in the special therapy garden maintained by Muddy Fork.
Speaking about the project Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, head of communications Erin McDaid said: “I had worked with John Stirland for over 20 years in his role as a BBC gardener and I knew he had a soft spot for the Idle Valley, so we felt it was an ideal location for one of these special apple trees.
"We’re delighted that John was able to join us for the tree planting ceremony and that the tree will be nurtured by Muddy Fork in their therapy garden.”
The first Pilgrim 400 was planted at Scrooby, where William Brewster was born and raised.
It was also an important meeting place for the Separatist movement behind the Mayflower’s voyage.
Others have been planted at linked locations across the UK and it is hoped that others will be planted in the US.
Muddy Fork was established in 2016 as an independent charity after a previous green therapy project run by the Wildlife Trust at the reserve was unable to secure ongoing funding.
The Pilgrim 400 Apple was developed after a request for new apple varieties grown from pips in the county was broadcast on BBC Radio Nottingham in 2015.
John spent the next five years growing saplings from this singular, unique tree which was subsequently authenticated, through testing its DNA by the Horticultural Research Institute in Kent.
The Pilgrim 400 Apple project was born and has gathered international momentum.
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But the incident has brought the best out of the community. The director of a mental health charity says he is shocked and upset after vandals trashed a garden in Retford. Dominic Schad and the team at Muddy Fork were left stunned after waking to find hundreds of pounds worth of damage at the plot at the Idle Valley Nature Reserve yesterday, Wednesday, October 16. Plants were ripped up, shed timbers broken, tables overturned and a pizza oven smashed in an incident the charity director has branded “mindless vandalism.” Mr Schad says all involved have been left saddened by the damage caused to the garden, which was founded in 2011.
"We are really quite shocked, we have never had any vandalism – it has always been a well-respected space. Volunteers and participants were here yesterday and all of us were shocked and upset.”
Charity workers and volunteers have helped to clear up the mess to the best of their ability, but the damage is expected to cost between £300 and £500 to repair.
“Everything broken is still broken,” Mr Schad said. “Everything else has been put right. The team really pulled together to make things right. It was a wonderful thing to see the team pulling together under those circumstances. I am proud of them for doing that.”
The garden was set up by the charity with the help of people facing challenges with their mental health and is used by those people to help ‘grow’ their well-being. The charity holds a number of initiatives to help people in that situation and recently held a successful engagement event for World Mental Health Day on October 10, with 29 people attending. News that the garden has been destroyed has been shared on Facebook by the charity, leading to a wave of messages from people offering to help.
Sarah Rust wrote: “I’m so sad to hear this. Only last week I visited and had a look around your wonderful garden space. I work full-time but would be glad to give some time outside of office hours to help with the clear-up.”
The Friendly Bench commented: “We are so sorry to hear your sad news – this is awful. Please tell us how we can help and we’ll be there. Sending our love.”
Helen Hewitt Richards posted: “Shocking news. Whoever is responsible for this act of vandalism can have no idea of the healing and well-being that is cultivated by Muddy Fork.”
Deb Thompson added: “So sad to hear this. Why people feel the need to destroy things that help others is beyond me. [It’s] sickening. I hope you get sorted. If you set up a Just Giving page, I for one will contribute.”
Mr Schad admits he has been blown away by the response of the community offering to help. He said: “I have been astonished at the Facebook and social media response. It has been universally positive with many, many offers of help. It just shows Retford really is a wonderful place.”
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A Retford based charity which helps people overcome mental health challenges through outdoor work are celebrating after the positive findings of a scientific report led to a visit by TV crews.
BBC East Midlands Today visited Idle Valley Nature Reserve last week to showcase the "life-changing" benefits of Muddy Fork's work in the community.
The visit was prompted by the release of a scientific report produced by Essex University that featured Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust as one of the five case studies across the country.
The study, carried out by the Green Exercise Team at the University of Essex, analysed data relating to the participation of 139 people in Wildlife Trusts projects between February 2016 and February 2017.
And the findings were overwhelmingly positive.
Dom Schad, director of the Muddy Fork charity said: "We were very happy to participate in the research when the project was still part of Notts Wildlife Trust, and are now delighted to have such sound evidence and positive results.
"It’s given us a real boost and a solid foundation on which to continue our work. If anyone ever had any doubts about what we do, then this report should put those doubts to bed. Our mission right now is to forge relationships with health professionals and the local community to help us reach those who need us.
"We also need people to know that the wellbeing gardening we offer at Idle Valley Nature Reserve is free of charge, so that it’s available to as many people who can get here."
The report assessed changes in participants’ attitudes, behaviour and mental wellbeing over the course of 12 weeks after taking part in nature conservation volunteering programmes run by five Wildlife Trusts across the North, Midlands and South West of England.
The principal finding was that the mental wellbeing of participants improved significantly over the 12-week period, and that improvements were greatest for people who had not previously taken part in Wildlife Trust activities.
"The publication of the report is well-timed, as we’re about to celebrate our first anniversary as a registered charity in November," said Dom.
"None of this could have been achieved without the partnership of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and support from individuals and groups in the local community."
Muddy Fork, who help people overcome mental health challenges through volunteer conservation and wildlife gardening, launched after losing funding under its previous incarnation, the Recovery Project.
To find out more about Muddy Fork and how to get involved contact Dom Schad now on 07421 356717.
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BBC Visit Muddy Fork @ Idle Valley
The Green Team from the University of Exeter recently published a scientific study reporting the benefits of volunteering outdoors in gardening and conservation projects, which 'The Guardian' highlighted in their edition on Monday 2nd October. This resulted in BBC East Midlands Today turning up at the Muddy Fork Wellbeing Garden based at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts' Idle Valley Nature Reserve last week to find out more. This is fantastic recognition for the charity's work and achievements, and great for raising awareness that people can take care of, and improve their own wellbeing, really quite simply and cheaply, by volunteering with conservation groups, or by volunteering with wellbeing and mental health gardens and projects like Muddy Fork, where the people come first and gardening second.