Planted garden area and greenhouses in HMP Rye Hill

Evaluation of HMP Rye Hill's Recovery Unit (Master Gardener Programme)


Public Health Northamptonshire

Total value of project


Project team

Dr Geraldine Brown, Dr Elizabeth Bos, Dr Geraldine Brady (Nottingham Trent University), Dr Martin Glynn (Birmingham City University), Professor Moya Kneafsey


HMP Rye Hill, G4S, Public Health Northamptonshire

Duration of project

26/05/2016 - 30/11/2017

Garden Organic logo

Project overview

In 2002, Grimshaw and King published a pioneering study which examined issues facing 104 horticultural projects operating in 104 prisons and secure psychiatric facilities across the UK. Key findings identified the importance of horticulture in the lives of participants in creating a sense of ownership, the development of life skills and having educational, occupational and rehabilitative benefits. The engagement of participants in horticultural activities also facilitated an improvement in relationships between participants and the wider community and was an important factor in improving individual’s physical health and well-being.

International evaluative research provides additional insights about a range of positive outcomes of a Master Gardener Programme for incarcerated men in the US, this research identifies: increased self-esteem and self-control; improved life satisfaction and communication with fellow offenders; a therapeutic effect; intellectual stimulation; a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity for learning (Polmoski, et al., 1997).

The Master Gardener Programme, led by Garden Organic, ‘the UK’s leading organic charity’, was initially launched nationally as a pilot community programme in 2010. The extension of the programme from a community to a prison setting was in recognition of research evidence (national and international) that showed a range of positive outcomes associated with the role of horticulture in supporting physical, emotional, behavioural and social well-being. Hence, the evaluation was interested in understanding the rehabilitative aspects of the programme but also considering the impact of the programme on health and well-being and reflecting on gardening as an embodied practice and the garden as a space that promotes humanisation and self-worth, community and a connection to nature.

Project objectives

The Master Gardener Programme at HMP Rye Hill was funded by Public Health Northamptonshire and forms a partnership between Garden Organic, G4S, and the Substance Misuse team at HMP Rye Hill.

The aim of the study was to evaluate the programme as an intervention for substance misuse offenders, by exploring prisoners’ personal experiences of engaging in the horticultural intervention and understanding the processes by which the intervention is provided. The study aimed to identify the potential benefits and challenges associated with a horticultural intervention in a prison setting and considered the support needs going forward for the future provision of horticultural interventions within a prison setting and post release.

The evaluation of the Master Gardener (MG) Programme at HMP Rye Hill builds on the national evaluation of the MG programme carried out by Kneafsey and Bos (2014). This study was undertaken over a 12 month period and utilised a range of methods which included; interviews, focus groups, reflective diaries, survey and analysis of data routinely collected as part of the prison regime.

  • The impact of the study is wide-ranging; across the individual, organisational and policy level. The approach and findings generated were instrumental in shaping the development and delivery of Garden Organic’s Master Gardener Programme at HMP Rye Hill and in the wider community working with marginalised groups. The study shaped MGP development, staff practice and the programme delivered. In so doing, this impacted engagement and experiences of participants. In addition, the findings informed the prison's strategic decision-making; setting the approach that was the most conducive to building an environment that supported substance misusing men's recovery, health and subjective well-being, but also created opportunities to learn and develop skills that relevant to the labour market on release. 

    On a national level, an impact is that this work is gaining attention and a reputation in debates on ‘greening the prison’. The finding informed a parliamentary debate on the use of land-based programmes in a carceral setting to support the mental health and well-being of incarcerated men and women. This is in conjunction with being used as evidence to inform practice, encourage and support organisations operating in the green sector involvement in social prescribing.

  • Brown, G., Bos, E. & Brady, G., 2021, Building Health and Well-being in prison: Learning from the Master Gardener Programme in a Midlands Prison. Maycock, M., Meek, R. & Woodall, J. (eds.). Palgrave, p. 139-164 26 p. (Palgrave Studies in Prison and Penology).

    Brown, G. & Brady, G., 2020, In: Methodological Innovations. 13, 2, p.  12 p. Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review.

    Brown, G. & Bos, E. (2017) ‘We were there too’: Reflexive experiences of evaluating a prison gardening intervention, Methodological Innovations 10 (2) 1-8.

    Brown, G., Bos, E., Brady, G., Kneafsey, M., & Glynn, M. (2016) An Evaluation of the Master Gardener Programme at HMP Rye Hill: A Horticultural Intervention with Substance Misusing Offenders, Prison Service Journal, 225: 45-51.

    Brown, G., Bos, E. & Brady, G. Growing positivity in the prison garden. Coventry University’s ‘Innovate’, (November 2014).

    Brown, G., Bos, E., Brady, G., Kneafsey, M. & Glynn, M. (May, 2015) Evaluation of the Master Gardener Programme at Rye Hill prison an Horticultural Intervention with Substance Misusing Offenders, Report for Garden Organic, Coventry, Coventry University.

    The Changing Room: Prison podcasts.

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023