Garden fit for heroes…………………….. Oatridge College

A project involving horticultural staff and students at Oatridge College in West Lothian is set to get the Royal seal of approval next week when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visit the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey.
Among the people who will be introduced to the Royal couple on Wednesday, September 19 is Oatridge lecturer Thomas Meenagh from Cumbernauld, who recruited some of his students to help design the soft landscaping and plant up a horticultural therapy garden at the Centre’s new Jubilee Rehabilitation Complex.
Thomas got involved with the work of Headley Court when he spent three days there last year, demonstrating gardening techniques to seriously injured service personnel and their occupational therapists. He had been “Volunteered” by his son Scott, a patient there, who lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan.
During discussions with staff, Thomas learned of plans to develop an activity garden to help patients improve their mobility skills and saw the possibility of involving his own Oatridge students.
With the hard landscaping work for the project taken on by staff at Sutton and Southern Water, it was not until May this year that two Horticulture students, 47 year old Julie Muir from Leith, who is now studying for a Higher National Diploma, and Marie Evans (29) from Dunfermline, who has since achieved her Higher National Certificate, settled down to design the planting. They did the work in their own time and later joined an Oatridge team, led by Thomas Meenagh, at Headley Court to make their plan a reality.
“The students said it was a fantastic and at times humbling experience to get involved in the project,” says Thomas. “They were only too happy to volunteer their time and they felt they gained a lot of valuable hands-on knowledge and experience by being part of it.”
In July Thomas gave up two weeks of his holidays to return to Headley Court when he worked on the project and gave advice and guidance to occupational therapists and patients on how to progress it over the summer and beyond.
The garden and gardening has become increasing important in helping injured service personnel at Headley Court. While horticulture itself is providing physical, neurological, cognitive and psychological rehabilitation, the so-called “Test Track” garden features slopes, steps, uneven surfaces and different cambers which help patients learning to use prosthetic limbs. It is now planned to recruit a full-time specialist qualified in both occupational and horticultural therapy, to take the work forward.
Thomas Meenagh says: “I am very proud to be involved in the rehabilitation garden project as Headley Court has helped my son and his colleagues to recover from the injuries they sustained in Afghanistan. It is an incredibly worthwhile project, which has also given my students the chance to do practical work in a different environment to what they are used to and gain valuable experience for their studies.”
Scott Meenagh says: “I never thought I would follow my dad’s interest in horticulture, but being involved in the gardening project at Headley Court has really helped my rehabilitation following my injuries. I think the new Test Track will help other patients come to terms with the challenge of learning to use prosthetics and to navigate everyday obstacles like steps. The garden will add to the fantastic facilities that are already here at Headley Court.”

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