Museum provides ray of sunshine for the isolated and lonely

Museums often have a reputation for being stuffy and under-used, so to discover a thriving range of wellbeing and community engagement sessions being delivered at Quex Gardens – part of the Powell-Cotton Museum – enthralled Heidi Flood. The project has been nominated for the 2024 Kent Mental Wellbeing Awards and the volunteer reporter decided to take a closer look at the nominee.


The Sunshine Project has been nominated for this year’s Kent Mental Wellbeing Awards.

The project, which is based in Quex Gardens at Powell-Cotton Museum, began in 2020 with the aim of providing volunteering and workshops to support wellbeing for adults with mental health issues, mild physical disabilities or learning disabilities, as well as those dealing with the social isolation.

The initiative has proven how greatly it has worked to support those at The Sunshine Project, and in December 2023 received a grant from AIM Connected Communities to develop the organisation’s community engagement.

With no budget to work with until this date, those at the project have demonstrated how dedicated they have been to get The Sunshine Project from concept to an operational reality.

The project now has weekly groups for people to join in on maintenance, upcycling or gardening as well as providing the space for other groups, allowing it to be the inclusive place the team have aimed for.

The Sunshine Project’s aims are:

  • Increase availability of volunteering options. The team wishes to nurture an environment that
    provides for diversified needs and allows volunteering options to be available for everyone.
  • Enhance relationships. The Museum at which the project is based at, aims to strengthen links
    with local initiatives and those with similar aims to The Sunshine Project to establish a feeling of consensus.
  • Decrease the chance of loneliness. To combat loneliness, the initiative aims to offer programmes and assistance in decreasing this for those that the team supports.
  • Improve social communications. It aims to harness an atmosphere where those who are a part
    of The Sunshine Project feel they belong and are confident to communicate to others at the
    project and who are a part of the community, as a result of an accepting and diverse environment.

As a result of the grant the team have well-thought out how best to utilise this, to best impact those they support and to further develop the initiative. One aspect of this is the adoption of support from the charity Thrive.

This organisation has over four decades of background in ‘social and therapeutic horticulture.’ This is where qualified horticultural therapists work alongside people and plants to produce progress in psychological and physical health as well as social proficiency and communication.

Whilst being commissioned on a short term basis, Thrive will help to direct the best use of Quex Gardens and provide training for two days for those who are staff or volunteers currently at the project so they can then use this knowledge to further support those who attend The Sunshine Project.

Alongside the appointment of Thrive’s support, the idea of local artist Julia Ellen Lancaster
having a year-long residency programme has been proposed as well as workshops resulting in
the project’s attendees having their work displayed in Quex Gardens. The artist has previously
worked with numerous groups at the gardens, allowing for communities to be brought together
through the use of art and creating an ever more diverse environment for those attending The
Sunshine Project and Quex Gardens.

At the launch of the project, the CEO of Powell-Cotton Trust Nigel Trust said, “This gives people
the chance to learn and helps with socialisation and communication, it’s not done in a classroom
but here (Quex Gardens) and is a beautiful way of helping people and giving opportunities.”

The fact that the team who make up the The Sunshine Project have provided such high quality
volunteering and nourished the environment to become the accepting place that it is without a
budget demonstrates why they are worthy of receiving the grant they now have as well as a
nomination for the Kent Mental Wellbeing Awards.

To nominate an individual, organisation or initiative for the Kent Mental Wellbeing Awards, or to find out more, visit