Profile: Jermaine Bennett, Sydenham Garden

Jermaine Bennett leads The Transitions pathways project, which is funded by Maudsley Charity

6 minute read

We fund many different projects at the Charity –some large, some small, some research and some practice. What we know about all of them is that it is the passion and dedication of the people who lead these projects that makes each one special and impactful in their own way. We wanted to focus in on the many and varied ways that project leads have gone about developing their work, what motivates them to go the extra mile, and what they have been learning about that can make a difference to others who might want to start their own idea to help those experiencing mental illness.

Jermaine Bennett

Jermaine Bennett

Head of Services, Sydenham Garden

1. Can you tell us about your career; how and why you came to do the job you do today?

I started my career in mental health as a mental health support worker. I worked with people with a range of mental health conditions to support them to access services that would support them and to find ways to live a more satisfying life. I first started working at Sydenham Garden in 2016. I have always loved nature and growing plants, and Sydenham Garden was a place that brought together my passions of supporting people to develop and grow, by physically growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers.

2. What sparked the idea to apply for Maudsley Charity funding?

People spend a year with us on a garden placement. Although that is a long time it can fly by quickly. The feedback we got from people taking part in the project was that they felt a little lost at the end of their placement and didn’t know what the next steps would be. We piloted the first Transitions Pathways group and it was a success. We already had a good connection with SLaM services which encouraged us to apply for funding.

Sydenham Garden

3. What is your idea?

Our idea was to support the people we work with to continue to achieve and develop their personal goals. We would work with people as a group or 1:1 to give them tools to identify their strength, what goals they want to reach and ways they could reach these goals. We would work with other organizations that supported and encouraged people to continue further learning, volunteering and develop employment skills.

4. What challenges have you faced in developing from an idea to delivery and how did you overcome them?

Delivering the project was challenging during the pandemic. Lockdown had a negative effect on people’s mental health as people were more isolated and access to services were restricted. People’s anxieties were high and their mood were low. We found it difficult to help people feel positive and to make plans for their future as things were so uncertain. Time was spent on referring people to primary and secondary care mental health services. We had to find ways to lift people’s moods and to be optimistic. We delivered our sessions on Zoom and referred people to our local voluntary service to support them with their Covid efforts. We also referred people to other online support groups and telephone support.

5. What are you still learning about, what has not worked as planned?

We had planned to deliver in person workshops and visits to other local groups. Because of the first lockdown this didn’t go to plan. We found new ways of delivering the sessions remotely and having people visit our online sessions rather than us visiting them in person. I am still learning creative ways to adapt our service to fit with the changing times.  

6. What keeps you motivated?

Hearing about achievements that people have made, whether its someone getting on the bus on their own for the first time or someone starting work.

Sydenham Garden

7. What changes would you like to see in future – for your area of work, and/or on a national/local front?

I would like society to be more aware and understanding of mental health conditions. This would promote more inclusion for people to access employment, education and volunteering. I feel like this is already happening, but there is still some work to do. 

8. Is there anything you’d do differently if you began this journey again?

I think our service has pretty good knowledge of other services available to people in the borough but I have since found out about services that I hadn’t heard of before. If I was to start again I would network more and do more research on other services.

9. Any advice to someone else who wants to develop an idea?

Make sure it is something you have a passion for. Your passion will get you through the difficult times.

10. Finally… what do you do to look after your own mental health?

I make sure to make time for myself to do the things I enjoy. I’ve planted some bulbs and a small flower bed in my garden. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed I go outside to see how the plants are growing and sit and listen to the birds singing, which always lifts my mood.