The Defence Gardens Scheme

Defence Gardens Scheme (DGS) works with veterans’ charities, military units, community mental health service providers, and gardening projects to develop, deliver and evaluate nature-based therapy across the UK. It is a ten-week, evidence-based, horticultural programme that runs one day a week for four hours per day. On hand are a horticultural expert and a horticultural therapist. All sessions balance practical gardening skills and physical, cognitive, social, and emotional therapeutic outcomes.

Entrepreneurs Unlocked CIC is a social enterprise that helps individuals on the fringe of society to develop their skills to become self-employed.

Entrepreneurs Unlocked was commissioned by DGS in 2021 to develop and provide the Defender to Entrepreneur (DTE) programme. This is a programme of remote support to military veterans across the UK who are setting up their businesses to provide support services, training, and employment opportunities.

DTE has been created for veterans at various stages in their business’s development and focuses on various topics. Including how to secure funding, create social media and marketing plans, develop a brand, define a service offering, register with HMRC and process VAT, if applicable.

DTE has been funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust (AFCFT), and DGS and Entrepreneurs Unlocked appreciate this support.

The People

Matthew Price – Veterans Plot and Matthew Price Wellness and Coaching – Hampshire

Matt Price has always been interested in horticulture, from spending time with his Grandad on his allotment to helping his parents with their vegetable patch. This continued throughout his 10 years in the British Army, whilst serving on multiple tours of Northern Ireland and postings to Germany, Canada, and the UK. During his time in the armed forces, and after this, throughout his career in private security, Matthew would take time out to visit gardens and estates wherever his tours would take him, from Basra to the South of France.

Matt said: “When things would get too much for me, my coping mechanism would be to get outdoors and, whenever possible, to visit gardens. Upon leaving the military, I had difficulties, and cognitive behavioural therapy did not work for me. So my therapy is to potter about in gardens. As soon as I am outside and surrounded by nature, the world is a better place.”

Matt said: “I was introduced to the Defender to Entrepreneur programme, and I found that speaking to people in the same position as myself and regularly meeting with a network of my peers has been invaluable. We all have military training, which has meant that our approach to business planning has been similar. We use our brains, as we have been trained militarily, to create a plan of attack, and we bring this training and approach to our business. The Defender to Entrepreneur booklets was great too. We worked through them, and they helped us structure our ongoing business planning.”

Matt has set up his businesses, Veterans Plot CIC and Matthew Price Wellness and Coaching.

Veterans Plot CIC provides horticultural wellness for veterans of the armed forces services, working side by side with Matthew’s Wellness and Coaching Practice, providing ‘green care for veterans.

Matt explains: “I run my wellness days at a local agricultural college, and I am in discussions with several armed forces charities to roll this out even further. The veteran’s plot was started during the pandemic, initially on social media, as a safe space for veterans to come together to share advice on horticulture. I was able to take my Veterans Plot and the Wellness and Coaching Practice into the real world when I launched my first wellness garden.’

“For me, ‘green care’ works for veterans, as if they are present and looking at a flower, they are not thinking about their troubles. Also, in gardens, there are not any triggers for veterans. They can be present at the moment in a safe space and can either enjoy the time on their own, or they connect with other veterans.”

Ross Edwards – Garrisons Farm CIC – Swansea

Ross Edwards spent 23 years in the Royal Logistic Corps. He was stationed in the UK and Germany and served on tours to countries including Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Ross left the military and returned to Swansea in 2019, within eighteen months of his discharge. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and the transition to civilian life, Ross faced emotional and financial difficulties, relying on food banks to keep him alive.

Ross said: “After leaving the military, I was down for a while, but then I got a dog, which got me active. At this point, on my outdoor walks, I realised I wanted to work with nature somehow, leading me down the path to developing my farming network.”

Ross Edwards became aware of DGS on social media and reached out. As a result, he was invited to join the Defender to Entrepreneur programme and joined to connect with other veterans.

Ross said: “The Defender to Entrepreneurs programme introduced me to other veterans starting their own CICs and social enterprises, and joining this network has been great. Working in a group format has expedited the business planning progress and helped speed up the learning. The peer-to-peer support has been invaluable.”

Ross’s business, Garrison Farm, is an ambitious scheme to combine essential veteran support with the circular economy. Ross hopes that allowing veterans to engage in sustainable agriculture in a supportive environment will allow them to adapt to civilian life whilst helping the planet.

Ross continues: “Upon leaving the military, it became clear that I didn’t want to live in a ‘square house’. Instead, I wanted a new way of life, to live more sustainably and off-grid. From my experience, I knew that many other veterans feel the same, so now I want to extend this to veterans on a large scale.”

Garrison Farm is a social enterprise, and veterans will join us straight from the forces to work in green agriculture jobs. They will then receive a Garrison Farm badge, a qualification that will identify their abilities and help them to make a living.

Defender To Entrepreneurs Programme Outcome

The Defender to Entrepreneurs programme provides guidance, tools, networking opportunities and peer support for veterans looking to set up their own business in horticulture. The programme is funded for small cohorts of 4 throughout 2022. For further information and to register, please get in touch with info@defencegardens.org

Sally Coulthard, MBE CF FRSA, Founder and CEO at DGS CIC, said: “The DGS project offers real opportunities for all members of the armed forces community to get involved in nature-based therapy. I am delighted that Entrepreneurs Unlocked and DGS have collaborated to introduce the Defender to Entrepreneur programme as an invaluable addition to the progression options that DGS offers to the veterans who complete our 10-week programme.

“I want to thank David Morgan and Entrepreneurs Unlocked for allowing DGS veterans to consider, and with David’s guidance, to work towards self-employment in horticulture.”

Founder of Entrepreneurs Unlocked, David Morgan, said: “I am proud to collaborate with DGS, to run the Defender to Entrepreneur programme, to support and assist veterans, who are interested in becoming self-employed, or who are at the start of their new business, CIC, or social enterprise”.

“It is an honour to learn more about the veteran’s community and to offer tailored support and guidance to them. I am excited to see how Matthew’s and Ross’s businesses progress in the future. We are already planning regular catchups to provide informal support and networking opportunities. With 3 programmes across 4 DGS gardens in the pipeline, I look forward to many more successful outcomes in the future.”If you are interested in the Defender to Entrepreneur programme, contact info@defencegardens.org.