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Joining a community garden could improve your mental health

11 August 2015

Joining a community garden could improve your mental health

According to Mind Mental Health Charity, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Over the past few years extensive research has been done in regards to the link between gardening and mental well-being.

With this week being National Allotment Week (NAW) we wanted to take a closer look at community gardening and the potential benefits that it has to a local community.

father and son gardening

Community Gardens and Allotment Gardens are proven to have many health benefits for those that are involved in them, and is often used as a form of therapy and rehabilitation in a range of people with mental health issues and people with severe life trauma.

We spoke to two local community gardening organisations who work with vulnerable adults in Nottinghamshire. We discussed the benefits of the work that they do as well as how important these gardens are for the local community.

stonebridge city farm logoMarie Rogers, Farm Manager at Stonebridge City Farm spoke to us about the farm and it's work in helping vulnerable adults find their place in society.

What is a city based community farm?

Anything the local community wants to make it, some city farms are at the heart of the city, like ours, or they are on the outskirts where there is a little bit more space available. The farm is run by volunteers who help to tend to the animals, grow crops and run educational workshops.

What are the benefits of a city farm to the local community?

There are lots of benefits, we provide fruit and veg to the local community and we open the farm up for educational visits and members of the public. However the part that is of the most value to me is not about the farm at all, but the people who come together to make it work.

Can you tell me a bit about the work that you do with vulnerable adults?

We work with a wide range of people who have varying disabilities. We help teach them about what a real working day is like and teach those labour skills so that they can go out and get jobs. Our farm helps give these people a purpose in life and eventually helps to make them a party of society.

community gardening pull quote within blog post

We have a bit of an open door policy because we want the farm to be seen as a place where these vulnerable adults have a place where they fit in. We work with a lot of disadvantaged people who maybe have learning difficulties and are struggling to find their place in the community, or people who are simply lonely and trying to deal with issues. Being part of the farm gives them a purpose and a place to fit in. Everybody fits in at the farm.

You hear a lot about the links with horticulture and mental health, what do you think about that?

Oh I agree completely. A lot of people come to us quite isolated with really low self esteem, for example one of the lads that work for us has been with us for over 16 years and travels from Derby 5 days a week. When he first joined us he barely spoke to anyone and wouldn't even eat in the same room as everyone else. After a few months he began to gain confidence, now he will happily sit and have a full blown conversation with you.

It is great to see the small steps that people make when they join us, some days even a smile or a few words are steps in the right direction.

To find out more about Stonebridge City Farm and to organise a visit have a look around their website.

Ecoworks Community Garden, St Anns Nottingham is another local community garden which dedicate to helping to improve the lives of vulnerable adults in the local community. The garden is a little countryside heaven based in the heart of of the city.

Ecoworks supports vulnerable adults and helps them to learn about gardening, harvesting, landscaping, crafts and allotment cooking. They also run ecotherapy and health and well-being programmes.

We caught up with Paul Paine from Eco Works to find out more about the work that they do.

What goes on at the community garden?fresh produce from EcoWorks Community garden

We run lots of different projects at the garden. Our members will tend the garden, weeding, pruning and planting at the right times of year and of course harvesting produce. We are currently running a willow craft project where we are making things like baskets for our volunteers to take home and learn a new skill in the process.

What do you grow on the garden site?

We grow a huge range of fruit and vegetables from garlic and onions to courgettes. The garden is a social inclusion project so the volunteers take home a big basket of home grown fruit and vegetables to enjoy. We used to run a vegbox scheme however we felt like the volunteers should take home their hard grown produce.

Who can get involved in the garden?

Anyone who wants to get involved can. We run lots of events at the garden too such as cooking workshops and fun days. Primarily we target groups of vulnerable adults from a mental health and mental distress groups to long term unemployed people. The site is to train these vulnerable people and give them a new purpose and skills.

What would you say are the benefits of joining a community garden like Eco Works?

Social Interaction - People from different backgrounds, ages and gender are able to interact with each other in an open environment and begin to make solid friendships with one another

Provide Routine – Having a routine can really help improve your well-being, being part of the garden allows our volunteers to have more of a set routine.

Access to countryside- Even though the garden is in the middle of the city, you forget that as soon as you come through the gate. The site is a complete escape from city life and is calm and very quiet, great for stress relief.

Paul's views of the benefits of the community garden are also reflected in the results from the research conducted by Thrive which say that: 

benefits of community gardening quote image

How to get involved in a community garden near you

Find a community garden or farm near you

There are over 1000 city and community gardens across the UK according to the Federation of City Farms and Gardens. To find one near you there a few ways you can do this:

  • Get in touch with your local council who should have a list of local groups and events
  • Use the Federation of city farms and gardens postcode checker to find one near you
  • Look out for ads in the local paper

Make contact

Once who have found your local community garden, allotment or community farm, have a browse around their website to get a feel for who they are. Once you are happy give them a call and organise to go down for a visit.

Go for a visit

Plan a visit to the farm and have a chat with some of the members. Don’t be intimated by the gardens, you don’t need to be a gardening expert join, everyone starts out as a beginner and all of the members learn and grow together.

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