Many people find a sense of calm and fulfilment in gardening. For Tom Fraser, 32, gardening has aided his recovery from horrific drug related injuries and provided a rewarding career to support his young family. Here Tom tells his story about his journey from addiction to employment and a new life.
“Growing up with an alcoholic father I was exposed to addiction pretty early on.
“I started taking drugs seriously around the age of 18 - amphetamine, cocaine and a lot of legal highs such as mephedrone which is marketed as a plant food but which you could buy in shops locally or online for as little as £20 for 1g.
“Over the course of three years my use of legal highs escalated until the day before Christmas Eve, 2009, at the age of 21, I collapsed after a night out and suffered a massive hypoxemic brain injury, which caused my heart to stop for eight minutes.
“I was in a coma throughout Christmas and then in intensive care for two weeks and in hospital for a total of two months.
“I literally had to learn to walk and even talk all over again. The doctors said the legal highs were to blame and my life had only been saved by my age and strength.
“The brain injury left me with lasting short term memory loss. But there were a lot more bad things to come.
"I was out of work for over a year. I lost my driving licence and was stopped from seeing my daughter. I recovered enough to take a few short-term care jobs.
“However, the problems from the brain injury and a messy break-up led to a sharp decline in my mental health and I was eventually sectioned and spent three and a half months in the psychiatric unit at St Ann’s Hospital in Poole.”
While in St Ann’s Tom was taken to visit BCHA’s New Leaf allotment in Throop, to aid his recovery. The Allotment offers accredited horticulture qualifications and has also helped many people with poor mental health find a sense of purpose, qualifications and even new careers.
Tom didn’t know it then, but gardening would go on to play a huge part in his life.
“After leaving St Ann’s I was given a place in supported accommodation at Millennium House by BCHA.
“I went in with huge debts but slowly started to get my life back on track. I did various gardening jobs, took training courses with BCHA’s help and when I moved out and got a flat I was debt free and volunteered with the brain injury charity Headway.
“I then met my wife and had the first of our three children together.
“I did some gardening work for an agency and for Poole Council and then went to work as a caretaker for a language school. But Covid struck and there were no foreign students coming over to the UK. It was then that I saw a job advertised working for the New Leaf Company.”
New Leaf is a social enterprise arm of BCHA and provides gardening and repairs for BCHA's housing service, as well as a co-working, conferencing and catering hub at The Factory in Poole.
“I had good memories of how BCHA had given me a place to live and I applied for the job and was thrilled when I got it.
“I now work 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday as a gardener and it’s the best job I have ever had. I look forward to getting up in the morning.
“Sometimes I come into contact with people who are obviously going through things I have and I want to reach out and tell them there is a way out from addiction. I worry terribly about my own children and addiction.
“Legal highs were supposedly outlawed in 2016. But there are loopholes and you only have to see the amount of discarded bottles around our streets to see they are still a huge problem.
“You don’t know what is in a legal high. It could be anything. The risk just isn’t worth the half hour of effect they can give.
“I am lucky to be still walking around and to have had the chance to rebuild my life. Some people have died or been left in a vegetative state by legal highs.
“I hope I can continue to work for BCHA for many years and I also hope eventually to play some part in mentoring others who are dependent on drugs but who want to rebuild their lives like I have.
“BCHA has given me a second shot and I’m not going to waste it.”