Tuesday, 22 January 2019

1819: John Ruskin: a thinker for our time

In a few days time it will be the bicentenary of the birth of Victorian polymath John Ruskin:
Ruskin, John (1819–1900), art critic and social critic | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

He was indeed a sharp observer of society:
Ruskin the radical: why the Victorian critic is back with a vengeance | Culture | The Guardian

And he is still speaking to us today:
Robert Hewison on why Victorian thinker John Ruskin is important - YouTube 
As the concerns he had about industry, manufacture and commerce are the concerns of today:

Largecow.com | Big Bumper Bovine Bits & Bytes.

With an exhibition happening in London: 

John Ruskin, Study of Moss, Fern and Wood Sorrel, upon a Rocky River Bank, 1875-79

Artist, art critic, educator, social thinker and true polymath, John Ruskin (1819-1900) devoted his life to the pursuit of knowledge. To mark the bicentenary of his birth, a new exhibition produced by Two Temple Place, Museums Sheffield and the Guild of St George, will celebrate the legacy and enduring relevance of Ruskin’s ideas and vision. John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing will bring together over 190 paintings, drawings, daguerreotypes, metal work, and plaster casts to illustrate how Ruskin’s attitude to aesthetic beauty shaped his radical views on culture and society.

John Ruskin - Two Temple Place
John Ruskin's Influence on Art and Architecture on View in London Show | Architectural Digest

As heard on Start the Week: 

Art, truth and power

21 January 2019

Andrew Marr on beauty and politics in art. Our idea of beauty was shaped by the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin. He thought all people deserved to see beauty every day, and compared, and founded a gallery in Sheffield for local industrial workers. To mark Ruskin's bicentenary, curator Louise Pullen has put together a new exhibition showing how his ideas about art, science, truth and beauty shaped the politics of the day. 

BBC Radio 4 - Start the Week, Art, truth and power

Ruskin had a real sympathy of and for things - as reflected in another programme this week: 

An argument for observing our material world better and for understanding the way we make objects, and objects, in turn, make us.

BBC Radio 4 - The Sympathy of Things, Part 1

Melvyn Bragg lives in Ruskin's house:
BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, John Ruskin

Monday, 21 January 2019

Local government and austerity: "the slow, incremental, and sometimes devastating disappearance of local services"

Local taxes are going up:
Futures Forum: District and County Council announce spending plans in a new year of austerity for local government

But local spending is going down:
Futures Forum: Local government and austerity

And this is happening across the board and across the country, as shown only from the last week:
Crime prevention budgets slashed - the MJ
UK’s most senior judge condemns government’s austerity policies in extraordinary political attack | The Independent
Local councils blame austerity for lack of investment in road improvements | Public Finance

Meanwhile in these parts, the District Council spends money it hasn't got:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: financial profligacy in a time of austerity
Futures Forum: Regenerating Exmouth seafront >>> District Council commits to £1.2m costs
Futures Forum: District Council sets up its own Local Housing Company

The Huffington Post is running several pieces this week on austerity and local government:

Why We're Focusing On Local Cuts – And What They Tell Us About Austerity In The UK

In a new series, HuffPost UK is looking at how local communities are changing as services are scaled back.

By Jess Brammar
Basia Cummings
21/01/2019 00:04 GMT | Updated 15 hours ago

Brexit is one of the great issues – and news stories – of our time. But austerity, now nearly a decade old, has been just as transformative – in a slow, attritional way that is all too easy to overlook.

The reality is a picture of a thousand small decisions taken in grey council meeting rooms, a thousand deductions from spreadsheets, and countless lives quietly made a little worse. Sexy news copy and television report material it is not.

And while it would be wrong to say the bigger picture hasn’t received a lot of coverage over the past eight years, the real-life impact is rarely “news”. These small stories seldom pass muster in newsrooms where reporters pitching ideas are asked by their editors daily: “But is it new?”

Meanwhile at a local level, councils faced with impossible budgetary decisions are having to make hard choices. So how do we mark the slow, incremental, and sometimes devastating disappearance of local services? How do we serve our readers by making sure our coverage reflects what they see where they live?

This is why HuffPost UK is devoting a week of coverage on the impact of local cuts – properly local cuts. In this series, What It’s Like To Lose, we have stepped away from considerations about what is traditionally “newsworthy”, ignoring the usual measures of scale, to look at some of the holes left in communities over the past few years, and to write about things that people tell us are important to them.


Sidmouth Repair Café > Saturday 26th January ... ... ... ... [And it needs an electronic engineer!]

The next Repair Café is next Saturday:

Sidmouth Repair Cafe - Home | Facebook

And it could do with a bit more help from another electronic engineer or two:

Electronic engineer needed for next Sidmouth repair café

PUBLISHED: 08:59 17 January 2019
Al Findlay looking at a laptop with a stripped down CD player on the table at the repair cafe. Picture: Sidmouth Repair Cafe

Al Findlay looking at a laptop with a stripped down CD player on the table at the repair cafe. Picture: Sidmouth Repair Cafe

Sidmouth’s thriving repair café is looking for new fixers with electronics experience ahead of their next session.

Volunteers meet on a Saturday every month, at Sidmouth Youth Centre, in Manstone Lane, between 10am and 1pm to repair all manners of items.
The committee is hoping to find an electronic engineer with knowledge of electronic gadgets to cover its next café on Saturday, January 26.
David Rafferty, from the café’s committee, said: “We are looking for anybody who has any electrical experience that can repair small electronic gadgets with circuit boards, such as radios.”
“People come along with skills wanting to be involved and we can show you how to fix your own stuff.”
Since the café’s launch in September, 24 volunteers have offered their time and skills in sewing, darning, carpentry, electronics and mechanics.
The café is free to enter and refreshments are available.

Sidmouth Repair Cafe needs electronic engineer to join fixing team | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

Brexit: and the "myth of the left-behind"

Trying to find reasons for the Brexit vote has coalesced around the notion that it was a cry from the 'left-behind':
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Somewheres and Anywheres

As featured on this blog the last couple of days:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and fly-over Britain > "Brexit will compound the disadvantage of the UK’s small towns and its regions"
Futures Forum: Brexit: forget it > "The future of political power is going to belong to whoever can empower the ‘little guy’."

The Times carried a piece last week questioning the idea: 

It’s a myth that the ‘left behind’ were ignored

january 14 2019, the times

The mantra that Brexit is the fault of an establishment that marginalises the poor is a complete distortion of the truth

Repetition is the mother of conviction. Repeat something often enough and we believe it to be unquestionably true. So it is with the narrative that Brexit is down, in large part, to a high-handed and callous establishment’s neglect of the “left behind”. Those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were left trailing in the gold-flecked dust thrown up by the golden chariots that bore the wealthy, the Londoners, the elite onwards — throwing back their heads to laugh heartily and pour some more Bolly down their gullets while failing to give a monkey’s about those in their wake.

This theory unites Remainers and Leavers, those on the left and right, politicians and commentators...

It’s a myth that the ‘left behind’ were ignored | Comment | The Times

In fact, it's a notion which has been questioned for some time...

From a member of the global liberal elite: 

The myth of a global liberal elite hides the reality of Brexit

Tuesday, 9 May 2017 12:02 PM

By Steve Harman

"I can't remember a time when it seemed like the Anywheres were calling the political shots."

In the early eighties my family moved away from a big city and bought a barn conversion in a Cumbrian village. That wasn't the only stereotype of the liberal middle classes we lived up to. Mum and dad were social workers and New Internationalist subscribers. We weren't like the other kids at primary school. We went on camping holidays in the Loire and they went to Butlin's. When they were going to watch submarines being launched, we were on CND demos.

To put it in the terms invented by David Goodhart in his new book 'The Road to Somewhere', we were a family of Anywheres (outward looking liberals) living among Somewheres (social conservatives with a strong sense of regional and national identity). With painful memories of the Wild West fancy dress party where I was the only kid dressed as an Indian, I recognise this picture of two distinct tribes, but disagree with the rest of Goodhart's analysis. He argues that the Somewheres have been marginalised and excluded from the public conversation while the confident Anywheres have gone on to rule the world.

It never felt like that to me. I can't remember a time when it seemed like the Anywheres were calling the political shots. We were a Labour family and watched our team get a kicking at every general election. Our constituency, Barrow-in-Furness, was home of the Vickers shipyard which built submarines, and anti-nuke Labour were about as popular as I was at school. When Neil Kinnock abandoned the commitment to unilateral disarmament, that changed. Labour captured the seat in 1992. But they had to go further to win over the rest of the country. The change they underwent in the Blair years wasn't just about ditching socialist policies but also about showing that it shared the cultural values of the Somewheres.

New Labour politicians are now remembered as a bunch of Islington luvvies, but they were never embarrassed to wrap themselves in the imagery and language of British nationalism. From employing a bulldog in a party political broadcast to promising “British jobs for British workers”, their rhetoric wouldn't have been out of place at a Ukip rally.

In power, Labour ran scared of any conflict with the Somewheres. Caving in to pressure from angry truckers with union jack placards, it froze fuel duty, costing the country £2 billion a year. Similarly, facing a revolt from older voters, it quickly U-turned on unpopular plans to increase the state pension by 75p a week, in line with inflation.

By contrast, New Labour relished any opportunity to pit against itself against those it could portray as part of a namby pamby elite. It justified top-up fees on the basis that dustmen shouldn't have to pay for the education of doctors and was happy to ignore everyone who marched against the invasion of Iraq.

When Labour was eventually kicked out, it was largely on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. David Cameron, terrified of Ukip – the militant political wing of the Somewheres – maintained the policy of giving them everything they wanted, including a referendum on EU membership. From this perspective, Brexit was not a popular revolt by people who had been left behind, but the logical outcome of the domination of British political life by nationalism and social conservatism.

None of this means that governments have always implemented policies that have really helped the Somewheres. Employment rights have been eroded. Inequality has grown. Public services continue to decay. But by failing to challenge the lie that such problems are the result of immigration rather than underinvestment, politicians excuse themselves from the responsibility of dealing with them.

The impact of Brexit remains to be seen, but there aren't many economists who believe it's going to help communities like Barrow. And if any government does succeed in cutting immigration, it will be harder to build the homes and provide the health and social care services they need in decades to come. The problem the Somewheres have is not that they've been ignored, but that they've been listened to.
Steve Harman is a writer and PR professional who has previously worked for the British Medical Association and the Green Party.

The myth of a global liberal elite hides the reality of Brexit - politics.co.uk

From Political Commentator of the Year before the 2017 election:

Politicians love the ‘left-behind’ cliche. It masks their own failure

Party leaders have interpreted the Brexit vote to suit their own purposes, and that version has absolved them of all blame

Wed 22 Feb 2017 06.00 GMT
Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 15.45 GMT
Comments 1,138

Labour candidate Gareth Snell (far left) with two voters and Jeremy Corbyn in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

On 9 June 1994 there was a byelection in the east London constituency of Barking. Labour had held the seat since its creation, in 1945, and that wasn’t about to change. The Tories needed a sacrificial candidate – the kind of ambitious rookie who can take a beating as an electoral initiation rite. That punishment was taken by a 37-year-old Theresa May. She came third, with 1,976 votes.

That contest is hardly ancient history, but it still belongs to a different epoch. For one thing, “safe” Labour seats were safe back then. It was unimaginable that within a generation the party would be defending Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland in Cumbria as if they were hyper-marginal: “on a knife-edge”, as Jeremy Corbyn put it to a meeting of his MPs earlier this week.


There might not be many safe seats left for Labour, anyway. MPs in parts of northern England and the Midlands fear a crumbling of their vote equivalent in scale to the collapse of their bases in Scotland. In areas that are still described as the party’s “heartland” the relationship with voters feels like a weak pulse sustained by habit.

Canvassing for the remain side in last year’s referendum revealed the scale of the problem. It was not the weight of Eurosceptic opinion that shocked. Nor was anti-immigration sentiment a surprise: that had been coming up on the doorstep for years. What struck canvassers in once-safe Labour seats was a feeling that the referendum was an opportunity to do something at the ballot box that, for once, could not be ignored. Elections had come and gone before. Promises had been made and broken. Every few years, the leaflets would drop through the letterbox. Maybe someone would knock on the door, but they wouldn’t bother on some estates. The signal was that voting was a duty the loyal Labour-supporting masses were expected to do by their party. Brexit felt different. It was the first time that voting seemed to offer big change – and the proof was the ashen faces of the people who urged no change. It was, as one Labour MP put it, a way of saying: “Now you have to listen.”

That sentiment has since been bundled up with a story of economic dissatisfaction. A conventional wisdom has coalesced around the image of leave voters congregating in areas that were “left behind”: taken for granted in the boom years and disproportionately afflicted by the bust. In this account the victims of globalisation sought shelter behind the Brexit barrier when it was offered.

It is a story that resonates as an analysis of social and political trends. It works less well for engagement with actual people. The condition of being “left behind” has become a convenient affliction projected on to diverse voters by politicians who need simple answers to complex questions.

May and Corbyn disagree on many things, but they share a glib account of millions tragically marooned on some remote economic shore, and they both cast themselves as the saviour sailing to the rescue. Neither seems interested in consulting on the destination. Ukip, meanwhile, looks at the conditions that led to Brexit as a resource to be mined – a seam of anger running across the country, regardless of regional contours, that might be converted into parliamentary seats.

Those attitudes aren’t much less patronising and lazy than the old habits of neglect that treated safe seats as stepping stones for career politicians. Party leaders have taken the referendum result, rewritten it in their own words, and are now declaiming it back at people.

When the results are in from Copeland and Stoke, they will be interpreted to fit the national stories May and Corbyn already want to tell about the anger of the left behind, how it manifests itself, and what to do about it. But no one was left behind. The same people have always been here. The problem is not enough people listening.

Politicians love the ‘left-behind’ cliche. It masks their own failure | Rafael Behr | Opinion | The Guardian

And from the 'architect' of Brexit himself:
Dominic Cummings: how the Brexit referendum was won
9 January 2017 


‘Connected to this is the big “why?”. I don’t think we voted to leave the EU because of clever tacticians or not-quite-clever-enough pollsters, or even because Johnson decided that one of his columns was better than another. I think we voted to leave because so many British people had been left behind economically and culturally for so long, and were furious about it; and because, from the 2008 financial crisis onwards, they had accumulated so much contempt for the political elites. In these circumstances any referendum narrows down to a single question: “Are you happy with the way things are?” The answer was “no”.’ Andrew Marr, October 2016.

‘The big why?’ is psychologically appealing but it is a mistake. In general terms it is the wrong way to look at history and it is specifically wrong about the referendum. If it were accurate we would have won by much more than we did given millions who were not ‘happy with the way things are’ and would like to be out of the EU reluctantly voted IN out of fear. Such stories oversimplify and limit thinking about the much richer reality of branching histories.



Sunday, 20 January 2019

Sidmouth Arboretum AGM: a busy programme

The Arboretum has been very busy:
Sidmouth Arboretum News

And last week, they held their AGM:
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Arboretum AGM: Tuesday 15th January

The Herald reports: 

Arboretum reviews year and plans for the future at AGM

PUBLISHED: 10:00 19 January 2019

Sidmouth Arboretum planting an apricot tree in Blackmore Gardens. Picture: Sidmouth Arboretum

Ideas for the future of Sidmouth’s trees were discussed at a recent AGM.

Sidmouth Arboretum gathered at the Unitarian Church’s Leigh Browne Room for its annual AGM last Tuesday (January 15) where members reviewed the year’s work and shared ideas for the future.
The members of the public were invited to the meeting, where they were shown images of the many planting sessions that had taken place in 2018 such as at Knowle, in Blackmore Gardens and the Unitarian Church.
Graham Hutchinson gave a summary of the planting and maintenance programme and invited suggestions from the public for new planting sites for next winter. He said trees are such a long-term project but Sidmouth Arboretum is encouraging everyone to join one of 2019 walks and talks.
The planting continued into the new year as the arboretum volunteers planted more trees in Blackmore Gardens.
Armed with woolly hats to fend off the winter weather, Sharon Scott and Martin Jarvis from East Devon Parks and Gardens team got together with Graham to plant an apricot tree, on Friday, January 4.

Sidmouth Arboretum hold AGM to review year and plan future | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

And the Herald reports regularly on what the Arboretum is up to:
Stepping out around town with Sidmouth Arboretum | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Tree trail path blocked after major storm hits | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Celebration of Trees held by Sidmouth Arboretum | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Sidmouth Arboretum tree labelling project begins in Sid Valley | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Opportunities and threats for Sidmouth Arboretum | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

Keeping the speed down in East Devon villages

Speeding is a problem in Sidbury:
Futures Forum: Campaign for safer roads in Sidbury > "the official data demonstrates the vast volume of traffic that goes through Sidbury - and the fact that the vast majority of drivers actually break the limit" > public meeting Weds 21st Nov

There has been a bit of activity on the Nextdoor social network of late - on the issue of speeding...

This thread is on getting people to drive more slowly (names have been removed, other than Councillors): 

Poll: Should we have a 20 miles an hour speed limit on our rural villages

 12h ago
There is little point in imposing rules if they cannot be enforced and our police force, although excellent, has too much to do at the moment without adding to the burden.

 12h ago
We have a 20mph zone in Sidbury that a Devon County Council vehicle speed sensor showed that in a complete week last year 88% of drivers drove in excess of the speed limit. And Sidbury Traffic Action Group, which is supported by Sidbury WI, are battling to get DCC to take this matter seriously and put up flashing speed signs. But as no one has yet been killed we aren’t taken seriously.

11h ago
Some drivers take notice of speed limits but unfortunately it's the same as parking restrictions - if there's no enforcement then many people just don't give a .......

10h ago
Car brakes are many times more effective than when the 30 limit was set, but as usual the weak link is the nut behind the wheel.
6h ago
I know when your walking along and some nutter come flying along it's very scary. Let alone dangerous. Why people feel the need to drive so fast on our small roads.!

3h ago
Certainly 30 is too fast in Beer Fore Street in summer with so many people on the narrow sections of pavement. The short distance of visability between the bends does not give some pedestrians time to cross safely.

41m ago
I'm your County Councillor and I'm on a working party which is looking at the situations in which 20 limits could be introduced in town and village settings. If you want to propose a 20 limit for a specific area or roads in Branscombe, Beer or elsewhere, the best thing to do is to discuss it first with your parish or town council who will need to be involved in putting it forward, and let me know (cllrmartinshaw@gmail.com).

17m ago
I think each road should be discussed on its merits. As I understand it from Sgt. Andy Squires the 20 limit is an advisory limit only. As Chris suggests, pedestrian safety is a key issue but perhaps only in certain areas. In Sidmouth town centre it can be hard to get up to 20 mph and the narrow streets and thronging pedestrians make a low speed essential anyway. That said, not long ago there was a nasty accident where someone was knocked down, which might belatedly make the case for a 20 mph limit in the town centre.

11m ago
In Sidbury we have had to investigate this suggestion that our 20mph is not enforceable. As the limit has been adopted/agreed by DCC it is enforceable and the police have accepted that point. So anyone of the 88% who drive through Sidbury in excess of 20 mph is liable for prosecution. It’s been designed as a 20 mph zone for a reason. As the police resources to enforce this are stretched Sidbury Traffic Action Group has submitted names of residents to the police who will form a local speed watch group. The intention is for them to “police” the speeding vehicles in liaison with the police.

·5m ago
I think the confusion may be caused by the fact that a 20 'zone' is not enforceable but a 20 'limit' such as exists in Sidford (and presumably Sidbury) is enforceable.


And this was reblogged on Nextdoor from a news piece earlier from Devon & Cornwall Police:

No need for speed

Alliance RPT Speed Montage Jan 2019.jpg

Police target excessive speed – one of the Fatal Five

Excessive speed is one of the Fatal Five top contributory factors to deaths and serious injuries on UK roads, because collisions where speed is a factor have a disproportionately high rate of fatalities associated with them.
For two weeks from 14 – 27 January Devon and Cornwall Police and partner agencies will be targeting drivers who selfishly endanger other road users not to mention themselves by speeding, as will police forces across the UK in support of a campaign led by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).
There is no excuse for excessive speed when driving, either breaking the speed limit or traveling too fast for the road conditions, but that doesn’t stop drivers who are pulled over from offering them.
The highlights from the Alliance Roads Policing team’s activity in the first week of 2019 alone (see photo montage) supplied the following gems:
  • Keeping up with the flow of traffic” when having just overtaken an unmarked police car and everything else (92mph)
  • “My cat is sick” (91mph, with children in the car)
  • “In a rush to get to my girlfriends house” (101mph)
  • “Didn’t realise I was going that fast” (100mph)
  • “Chatting and distracted” (94mph)
Far from just handing out “speeding tickets”, dependent on the severity of each offence drivers may receive penalty points on their licence and a fine, or they may have the option of attending a speed awareness course in which case those penalties will not apply.
In extreme cases of excessive speed, they may face a day in court which could result in a driving ban.
Operations will be carried out across Devon and Cornwall on arterial routes and A roads, and in areas where concerns have been raised about speeding through towns and communities.
Devon and Cornwall Police will deploy the No Excuse team and the Alliance and Alliance Specials Roads Policing teams, working with the Peninsula Road Safety Partnership (PRSP) which operates static and mobile speed safety cameras.
In a separate announcement, the PRSP have warned drivers that speed enforcement warning signs are not a legal requirement to validate the results of an operation.
Marcus Laine, Operations Manager for the Peninsula Road Safety Partnership: “In future we may operate for short periods without using camera warning signs at sites which have been assessed locally as needing an intervention, and require us to deploy in the short term.
“If the site continues to be used the partnership will consider adding camera warning signs to further improve compliance.”
A fuller statement about this will be available on the PRSP website next week.
Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, is the national lead for road safety for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
A survey run by her office last month showed that the public overwhelming supported tougher penalties for drivers who flout the law.
She said: “The new No Excuse roads policing team, coupled with the partnership’s work, means speeding drivers are less likely to be able to get away with endangering their lives and the lives of others.
“In 2017, the last year for which there are figures, there were 1,616 reported accidents in Devon and Cornwall and 63 deaths on our roads, this is simply unacceptable.
“I think it’s absolutely right that the mobile speed cameras can appear without warning anywhere on our roads – whether they be major routes or smaller rural locations where we know a disproportionate number of serious collisions occur.
“The simple message to drivers is that if you don’t want to be penalised for speeding, stay within the limits.”
The Fatal Five are the five main causes of serious injuries and deaths on the region’s roads.
  1. Inappropriate or excessive speed 
  2. Not wearing a seat belt 
  3. Driver distractions including using mobile devices such as phones, 'sat navs' and tablets 
  4. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs 
  5. Careless and inconsiderate driving 
More information about how we can all help to make our roads safer can be found in the Devon & Cornwall Police and Dorset Police Alliance booklet “A Guide to Safer Roads” which can be found online here:

On the road | Devon and Cornwall Police
News article | Devon and Cornwall Police

Gardening and growing can really help improve mental health

Sidmouth is not immune from tragedies around mental health:
Family hopes ‘lessons are learnt’ after Sidmouth man dies following mental health ‘failings’ | Breaking news & sport in East Devon | East Devon24

It is of course hoped that lessons have been learnt - and the District Council has been doing its bit by working with young people this year:
24 January 2018 - Mental health workshops organised by council for Sidmouth people - East Devon

However, in September, the issues were again flagged by the leads of the Youth Centre and the Sidmouth Health and Care Forum:
Lack of funding blamed for youth mental health crisis | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

There are meanwhile some very inspiring and positive national organisations which show that working with gardening and growing can really help improve mental health:

One such group is Thrive:
Thrive, charity using gardening and horticulture to change the lives of disabled people

With a nice piece from a couple of months ago:

How gardening improves my mental health

Every week, one in six of us experiences a common mental health problem. On World Mental Health Day, Thrive Ambassador Mark Lane explains how gardening brought him back from a low ebb and remains a powerful force for good in his life.

Thrive Ambassador Mark Lane

After my car accident in 2001 my recovery was slow, and my mind started to go to some very dark places.

I was diagnosed with co-morbid depression and I am still living with it today.

I have my "spectre of depression" sitting on my shoulder all of the time, but talking to family, friends and professionals I am able to live with and manage my depression.

The largest positive determining factor in my life is gardening and how it and being outdoors has improved my mental health and wellbeing.

I am a great believer, and the research backs this up, that gardening can help reduce anxiety, improve cognitive recall, help with dementia, can help combat isolation, improves physical health and stamina and, of course, makes us feel good by releasing the brain chemical serotonin – the same chemical released when eating a bar of chocolate.

We need to talk

Gardening has helped me greatly. I used to spend days, sometimes weeks, in bed, not wanting to talk to anyone or go outside, but gradually through the introduction of houseplants I started to find my love for gardening again.

As soon as I ventured outside, I loved the feeling of the sun on my face and a breeze across my cheeks. Gardening pushed my "spectre" to the back of my mind. This is why Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) is so important.

I had an amazing occupational therapist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, following my car crash, and she showed me how to pace myself, how to focus on my breathing and how to garden again despite being in a wheelchair.

I owe a lot to her and to STH. We need to talk about mental health more openly, share our experiences and remove its stigma. Thrive has been helping people for 40 years and I am so proud to be one its Ambassadors.

So, join me today and celebrate mental health rather than hiding it. Thank you.

How gardening helped improve my mental health

And this is 'Life at Number 27', with some really good tips and advice on how gardening can really help mental health: