Inspirational dad, Stephen Gillatt, discusses how a community garden encourages people to discuss their mental health

Written By Stephen Gillatt

“Personally, I don’t use the word advocate. I never refer to myself as one. I just find it easier to talk about my lived experience of mental health and mental illness than some other people. But even with this, I suffered in silence for around twenty-five years. Until about eighteen months ago. Now I’m trying to help people who are going through similar challenges as me. 

For the last six years, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my daughters at The Abbey Physic Community (Mental health) Garden. It’s near my home in Faversham, Kent. It’s a calm, relaxing place and run by friendly, empathetic people. It’s predominantly lottery-funded, in addition to local partnership working. People grow their own fruit and vegetables, then make and sell food they make. There are specialist groups and classes offered to local people, with a fantastic play area for children, a small pond and even a beehive! It’s a lovely place for people of all ages. 

Four years ago, during a period I was very unwell, I started to write a diary to help me to process my life and what was happening to me. I wrote many entries at the garden. After a few months, I realised I might be able to produce a book; and my hope was (and still is) to help those living with mental health challenges. In July 2019, my fatherhood and mental health memoir ‘Mad, Sad, Dysfunctional Dad’ was published and is available from Amazon.

In February 2020, I will speak about my book at the Faversham Literary Festival. I decided to hold my event at the garden and donate all ticket sales towards future projects there.

We will soon be planning events for this year. I’m hoping to help raise awareness of the garden amongst the wider community, whilst encouraging more people to visit it. I’d love to support them with funding applications and bids. The garden is a place where you can talk and where people will listen. It’s also a place you can go and just have some quiet time. Naturally, there are important dates in the mental health calendar, but I hope that we will just be able to encourage people to visit and take some time for self-care. Wellbeing is so important to all of us, yet we give ourselves so little time to do it. This has to change. And in my local community, the garden is a place where people can do this. Anyone is welcome. It’s very special to me, and so many other people.”