Vocational rehabilitation in mental health services: evaluating the work of a social and therapeutic horticulture community interest company
FIELDHOUSE Jon, PARMENTER Vanessa, HORTOP Alice
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to report on an action inquiry (AI) evaluation of the Natureways project, a time-limited collaboration between an NHS Trust Vocational Service and a voluntary sector horticulture-based community interest company (CIC). Design/methodology/approach: Natureways produced positive employment outcomes and an AI process – based on co-operative inquiry with trainees, staff, and managers – explored how these had been achieved. Findings: Natureways’ efficacy was based on features of the setting (its supportiveness, rural location, and workplace authenticity), on its embeddedness (within local care-planning pathways, the horticultural industry, and the local community), and on effective intersectoral working. The inquiry also generated actionable learning about creative leadership and adaptability in the changing landscape of service provision, about the benefits of the CIC's small scale and business ethos, about the links between trainees’ employability, social inclusion and recovery, about horticulture as a training medium, and about the role of AI in service development. Practical implications: The inquiry highlights how an intersectoral CIC can be an effective model for vocational rehabilitation. Social implications: Community-embeddeness is an asset for mental health-orientated CICs, facilitating social inclusion and recovery. Social and therapeutic horticulture settings are seen to be conducive to this. Originality/value: This case study suggests that AI methodology is not only well-suited to many practitioners’ skill sets, but its participatory ethos and focus on experiential knowledge makes it suitable for bringing a service user voice to bear on service development.