A COONEEN farm is using a connection with the land to help Fermanagh folk improve their mental well-being.
Robbie Breadon, who himself grew up on the farm, returned home after many years away in England to see if he could manage a centre that promoted healing via nature.
Common Ground NI was duly set up and over the years, a number of people has passed through its gates to benefit from the eco-therapy courses run by the centre.
These range from gardening, to arts and crafts and a number of workshops which help build a support network for people to fall back on and even help other members. Currently, Common Ground NI has around 35 to 40 people currently volunteering
“I grew up here on this land here,” said Robbie. “I went to Queen’s University to study biology and then transferred into microbiology.
“That was my ticket out of Northern Ireland. I went to Warwick University where I did my PhD. I decided that I wanted to go more in to caring whereby I discovered acupuncture.
“That started a whole journey of being a therapist of different kinds. I then discovered psychotherapy with the connection between body and mind. I’ve been a psychotherapist ever since.
“I’ve always been concerned about the environment and in the late 1990s, I discovered eco-psychology. That kind of brought everything into one case – it’s about nature, it’s about ecology, raising awareness and healing.
“In 2012, I thought that the family farm is still back there in Cooneen and it is really natural and unspoiled. I felt that I could go back there and do some work.
“I wasn’t homesick for home – it was more of a calling. Responding to a need of more awareness for environmental issues and also the possibility of bringing about healing via nature.
“It was meant to be a summer project but once we got planning permission, I had to come back. There’s been many challenges but many blessings as well. I didn’t have a short or long-term plan – I just knew I was committed to this.”
The project has proved to be popular with word of mouth, and even GP referrals, with many coming to Common Ground.
Robbie added: “The biggest strand of work that we do here, and one that’s best known in Northern Ireland, is our nature-based therapies.
“In 2016, we got our first polytunnel up and we started offering horticulture therapy. We’ve offered that to vulnerable adults who would be working with a psychotherapist and a community gardener.
“We’ve fine-tuned it to help those with anxiety and depression. Now we are widening the scope out to general individual resilience and self-management skills in relation to the challenges we have.
“It was hard at first to get people to come along. But I think the culture is changing and with that, there is much more interest in what we’re up to here.
“We’ve got a good social media presence so the things that we run are now generally well-attended. Professional services like the ones we have, have become much more popular with people self-referring and even being referred to us by GPs.
“We’ve had a lot of referrals via social prescription come through here. A social prescriber is someone is a networking role and in contact with GPs and the Community Mental Health Team. They do an assessment on someone and, if that someone likes gardener, they would be recommended to someone like us for example.”
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