There is plenty of evidence to suggest that community gardening projects can have a positive impact on wellbeing and skills acquisition in adults. Gardening can boost mental wellbeing by helping people reconnect with nature and physical activity not only helps the body but the mind as well. All over the UK there are gardening projects supporting vulnerable adults, refugees, asylum seekers, families and communities, helping them to learn new things and improve communication. These activity groups are able to provide a link between formal and informal learning – science, food safety and environmental education meets with communication, teamwork and social skills.
Gardening in cities
For those living in inner cities, gardening activities allow them to surround themselves with greener spaces and interact with nature. This can have a profound positive effect on wellbeing and mental health, helping people to feel calmer, more confident and better able to handle life’s challenges. Urban Growth, a gardening organisation in London, encourages green thinking and ensures it pays volunteers above the London Living Wage, further benefiting wellbeing through financial security. They specialise in supporting vulnerable adults who find traditional education and work difficult to manage, and encourage them to meet new people in an environment that is more comfortable and appealing to them.
Some hospitals, notably the Royal Edinburgh Community Hospital and the Midlothian Community Hospital in Scotland, provide gardening spaces and staff have recognised their great therapeutic value, with the gardens providing the volunteers with improved wellbeing, as well as the patients, who can enjoy leisure activities within them. Both hospitals are eager to gain more volunteers to help maintain their gardens. The Royal Bournemouth Hospital created the Orchard Garden Project which developed three different garden areas within the hospital grounds: a therapeutic courtyard garden close to patients undergoing chemotherapy; a lakeside garden developed as a peaceful retreat for patients; and a sensory garden that links the therapeutic and lakeside gardens. Community groups, businesses and citizens came together to donate and fundraise money for the project.
Working with refugees and asylum seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers often benefit from community gardening the most. Having frequently suffered very traumatic events, gardening gives them the opportunity to get outside and take part in something when they are not yet able to find employment. Gardening allows them to regain some control in their lives and make decisions that benefit both themselves and their new communities. Family learning is also possible – they can bring their children along to take part in activities too, helping them to understand what is required to successfully grow plants, flowers and edible produce and encourage them to build skills that may contribute to gaining employment in the future. Thanks to the Social Farms & Gardens organisation, the city of Bradford has established a community gardening group that has a strong input from asylum seekers who grow a huge range of vegetables, some native to the UK and others that are commonly found in their home countries. They then use the vegetables to cook healthy, affordable and nutritious meals.
Britain in Bloom
Perhaps the most famous community gardening project, The Royal Horticultural Society organises Britain in Bloom every year – local communities across the UK compete to win Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. They are assessed based on three marking criteria: community participation; environmental responsibility and horticultural excellence. Citizens focus on cleaning up their local area and planting incredible displays that often follow a theme. The BBC visits different competing regions and broadcasts their achievements to the nation. Those crowned Champion of Champions are considered the overall winners. Winning these esteemed prizes helps to boost learning, tourism and community spirit.
Further education and career opportunities
Many community gardening volunteers and workers build valuable skills that they can then take with them into further education and their future careers. For anyone who wants to work in horticulture, the benefits are obvious, but there are many more opportunities that present themselves. Food safety and ethical food production skills are also crucial to these kinds of roles and many people could find themselves attracted to jobs in the catering industry, putting their knowledge of growing delicious foods to a food preparation course. As healthy and locally produced foods continue to be in high demand, others may want to make their own homemade produce and sell it over the internet, at markets, or in shops. Having been close to nature, others may want to study the environment and work in jobs that aim to protect the Earth from pollution.
Are there any other types of education or career that you think community gardening work could lead to? Let us know in the comments section below.
The benefits of community gardening projects are vast and everyone can gain something useful from them. With most cities, towns and villages having at least one project on the go at any one time, it’s often a simple case of checking the local government website to see what’s happening and requesting to join, or searching the web for things happening in your area. Your local community may also be taking part in Britain in Bloom, a particularly exciting event that you will also be welcome to get involved in.
For those wanting to engage learning or workplace groups, you could consider creating your own community garden space. The Social Farms & Gardens organisation provide useful advice for starting your own gardening project and can be contacted via their website. They are based in Bristol, but have offices across the UK. Get in touch with them and start exercising those green fingers now!
You might also be interested in:
- Mental Health Toolkit for Employers (resource) - Business in the Community and Public Health England produced this toolkit that enables businesses and organisations to develop an effective and positive approach to good mental health in the workplace
- Look after your mental health using mindfulness (resource) - A booklet created by the Mental Health Foundation detailing the benefits of using mindfulness techniques, which is particularly useful for mental health first aiders and others who work with people suffering from mental health problems
- EPALE UK Star Supporter Competition! Health, wellbeing and adult learning (blog) - Submit content focused on the theme of health, wellbeing and adult learning to be in with the chance of winning £100 in vouchers and having your content disseminated to a wider European audience!
- Adult Learning and Wellbeing Seminar at the Belfast Festival of Learning (blog) - This blog post by our EPALE UK Ambassador Colin Neilands features the highlights from the seminar and a video of speakers discussing their thoughts on wellbeing and the positive impact adult education can have on it