Growing hope and houseplants in prison

Horticulture is a powerful tool at this Kent women's prison, where The Glasshouse project teaches new skills and helps reshape lives after release

Learning to garden has proved a powerful source of health and wellbeing for a group of horticulture students in a UK prison.

A gardening social enterprise called The Glasshouse, based in East Sutton Park women’s prison in Kent, has not only provided them with skills for life through horticultural training and employment, but has proved to be invaluable in providing a positive sense of wellness.

Co-founder, Kali Hamerton-Stove, has witnessed first-hand the amazing power that horticulture has given the women to develop new skills inside prison that can lead to employment opportunities on the outside. Kali’s work is also crucial in rehabilitating prison leavers to prevent reoffending – something that costs taxpayers up to £18 billion each year.

The women all walk away with a newfound love for plants and knowledge of how to care for them

Research shows that just 23% of prison leavers manage to get a job within six months of their release. Schemes like this therefore provide a real benefit to the local community and wider society, as well as reducing crime and protecting the public.
“The prison had lots of unused glasshouses, which we realised could create a supportive environment for the prisoners where they could gain new skills,” says Kali. A team of prisoners go into the glasshouses to grow and nurture beautiful and resilient houseplants.

These are later sold through The Glasshouse’s online shop, where they also offer a corporate gifting service and plant-scaping for offices, hospitality and retail.
The Glasshouse has become a peaceful space for many of these women, where they gain a sense of achievement as they learn to garden. The training they receive even enables them to gain Level 2 RHS qualifications, equipping them with skills they can use for life after prison.

It really shows the women just how far they’ve come... Many former prisoners tell us The Glasshouse changed their lives

For some of the individuals who are on ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence), selling the glasshouse-grown plants in the organisation’s shop in Cranbrook has been equally rewarding. The women draw on their horticultural knowledge when speaking to customers, offering advice on caring for houseplants.
“I’ve seen how that interaction with the community has increased their confidence. It really shows the women just how far they’ve come,” Kali says. “Even if they don’t later pursue a horticultural career after prison, the women all walk away with a newfound love for plants and knowledge of how to care for them.”
Along with the opportunity to develop horticultural skills, the positive wellbeing impact on the prisoners has been visible, Kali shares. “Finding a way to put their energy into such a positive thing has brought some incredible mental and wellness benefits for the women.”
 “Many former prisoners tell us The Glasshouse changed their lives,” says Kali. “I hope one day this project will be available in all female prisons to give individuals support during their time there and provide new prospects for when they leave.”
To find out more about recruiting prisoners and prison leavers, visit New Futures Network

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.