Sheltered Work Opportunities Project

History of SWOP

How SWOP got started

In the 1980’s, it became government policy to close many of the large psychiatric hospitals and for the former long-term patients to return to live in their communities. This policy was known as ‘Care in the Community’ and aimed to restore some ‘normality’ to people’s lives.

During their time in these hospitals, the former patients had daily activities and social opportunities which added routine and structure to their day. They formed friendships with other patients who became a surrogate family. Returned to their own communities, sometimes where they had not lived for many years, increased their sense of isolation and exclusion and many suffered a decline in their mental health and needed further hospitalisation as a result.

The Reverend Canon Rosalyn Aish was the pastor of St Ann’s Hospital in Poole at this time and noticed the number of patients being readmitted. He realised their needs for routine, structure and purpose were not being met in their communities and along with another philanthropist Cyril Speller, set about providing a safe place where those needs would be met from the voluntary sector.

A realistic form of work would give structure to their day, the opportunity to make new friends and develop social networks, give them the dignity associated with working, and the chance to regain the lives they had lost due to illness.

A registered charity, the Sheltered Work Opportunities Project, was established in February 1990.  Due to the generosity of Bournemouth Borough Council, a site was leased to set up a commercial plant nursery, originally designed to grow garden shrubs for the landscape market. The project was named Cherry Tree Nursery.

An interest-free loan of £1,000 was secured and an old portacabin donated. On 15th April 1990, four Volunteers (beneficiaries), a manager seconded for 3 days a week from the Dorset Healthcare Trust and a dog, moved into the wilderness soon to become a nursery.

At first, it seemed impossible for the project to survive. The site suffered constant break-ins and vandalism. There were no resources, and our technical knowledge and experience were limited. But if Cherry Tree proves anything, it shows that if you believe strongly enough in something, it will happen.

The project started to attract the friends and supporters who have made our growth possible.

In the early days the site was totally overgrown and derelict, and only half of the present site was available to Cherry Tree.  Since then, the volunteers totally cleared, drained, and levelled the site, installed water, electricity, and telephones, and erected all the tunnels, buildings, beds, and paths you can see today.

In 1995 the Council granted Cherry Tree the remainder of the site and, after clearance, the project expanded into the whole site.

A second site was opened in 2001, Chestnut Nursery in Poole.

Our philosophy and approach came from Cyril Speller and his key message to us remains ‘always try to make sure that people go out of this gate feeling happier than they were when they came in’.

Swop Charity

Sheltered Work Opportunities Project

The Sheltered Work Opportunities Project is a registered Charity (No 900325) and a company limited by guarantee (No 2449757).

The charity currently has two projects, Cherry Tree Nursery in Bournemouth, established in 1990, and Chestnut Nursery in Poole, established in 2001.

The charity was set up to address an identified need for meaningful occupation in a supportive and pressure-free environment, for adults with life-impacting mental illness. endeavour to reduce stigma and discrimination by increasing public awareness of mental illness.

Using therapeutic horticulture, the charity aims to restore mental wellbeing, and give purpose to people’s lives. The Trustees of the charity, who meet quarterly, come from a variety of backgrounds including business, horticulture, accounting, healthcare, and disability rights advice. Annual returns are submitted to the Charity Commission and Companies House, and the charity’s accounts are fully audited annually.

Each SWOP project holds regular Volunteer Forum meetings to discuss matters concerning the project. All Volunteers are encouraged to attend these meetings and to discuss any issue they are concerned about.

Part of SWOP’s brief is to reduce stigma and discrimination by promoting public awareness of mental health issues. Talks are given to local groups and organisations, who also visit the nursery.

The Nurseries

Cherry Tree Nursery and Chestnut Nurseries are commercial garden plant nurseries propagating, growing, and sourcing perennials, climbers, shrubs, grasses, bamboos, ferns, herbs, conifers, and trees for sale to the horticultural trade and to the general public.

The Nurseries produce more than 100,000 high-quality garden plants every year and is well-known in the local community for their friendly atmosphere.

Cuttings are taken and seeds sown in large greenhouses, then potted into liners (small pots) and moved into polytunnels, where they are grown on and potted up into 2L pots ready for sale once rooted and established.

Our Volunteers find the nursery a safe and non-threatening place to work, where they can receive support from staff, gain strength from developing friendships with each other, share problems and experiences, and build social networks through working together.

There are many different types of tasks available, all of which contribute to the running of the nursery and to the strengthening of a mutually self-supporting community. Confidence is boosted through the knowledge that all play a part in keeping a thriving, popular and successful nursery project running.

SWOP Charity