Bromley by Bow Centre case study

PoLLeN Project, Bromley by Bow Centre, London


The Bromley by Bow Centre is an innovative community organisation in east London. The PoLLeN Project, with its focus on horticultural therapy, is one of the many projects based at Bromley by Bow which help families, young people and adults of all ages living in this socially deprived area to transform their lives.

Project description

The Centre has designed buildings, services and projects which are easy to access and which encourage people to get involved. Huge importance is put on the quality of the buildings and the surrounding landscape in order to create an experience which is both calming and welcoming, providing a therapeutic oasis in the heart of a densely built and populated area.

The PoLLeN Project (People, Life, Landscape & Nature) is a social and horticulture therapeutic initiative funded by Ecominds and J P Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, with an overall aim being to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of individuals through engagement with the natural environment.

The project offers a range of therapeutic horticultural and art-related activities for people experiencing stress, anxiety, panic attacks, agitation, low mood, lack of confidence or difficulty in coping with day-to-day life. Through social and therapeutic horticultural activities, people are supported to improve their mental and physical health and to gain practical skills and training, particularly in horticulture.

Key achievement

The Centre radiates an inclusive, welcoming ethos and provides a strongly supportive and caring environment in which all the staff have high expectations for what can be achieved, thus allowing clients to reach their full potential.

What are the health benefits?

Health benefits arising from the Centre’s activities are many and varied. As well as the benefits for mental health arising from the PoLLeN horticultural therapy project, the focus in being inclusive and welcoming promotes a strong sense of community and improves social cohesion, both of which contribute greatly to health and wellbeing in the widest sense.

Increased self-esteem will help those coping with depression to regain their health. Taking part in practical activities simultaneously offers the chance to learn new skills, and opportunities for socialising and making new friends, all of which help raise people’s self-esteem. And undertaking meaningful work – such as horticultural tasks in the cutting or flower garden – also helps raise self-esteem, with centre users feeling once again that they have a valuable role to play in society.

A service-user’s perspective: Lisa’s story

“I had been working as a mental health nurse and drama therapist in the East End for several years – it was a busy and stressful job, but I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, though, I suffered bullying and harassment at work, and it affected my mental health. It became so bad that I was unable to work anymore and went off sick. It took seven years before my employers agreed to pay me compensation for the bullying and harassment, and during this time I was very unwell with depression.

In April 2007, my GP suggested I try volunteering at the Bromley by Bow Centre……initially, I was only doing a few hours a week but working in the therapeutic setting of the flower (cutting) garden, at Bromley by Bow, I was very quickly doing 2 days a week! I received so much encouragement and trust, but never felt under pressure. It felt really good to be out of the house again and doing something worthwhile and it’s so good to work with people who value each other in a place that feels like a green oasis.

As of January 2010, I am on a contract of employment for 35 hours a week working for PoLLeN in the cutting garden…… It feels great to be working at this level again after so many years. Sometimes I cannot believe how much my life has changed in the last three years. When I was ill I couldn’t imagine being able to work again.

‘The work involved in growing and nurturing plants is amazingly satisfying and therapeutic, but you don’t have to work in a garden or green space to benefit from it. Just walking through a park can improve your well-being and peace of mind. It is very rewarding helping to make East London a little healthier and a little more beautiful.”

Lisa now works as a project leader for PoLLeN.

Lessons learnt

  • The importance of having a trained facilitator with experience in landscape design and horticulture in a leadership role – Vanessa Barker who initiated the project (and who died in 2011) was a qualified landscape architect;
  • The importance of identifying people’s needs accurately and responding to them, rather than adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach;
  • The importance of a sense of ownership by the local community, which is strongly supportive of the PoLLeN project, and everything that the Centre stands for.


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