As the Wildlife Trust, local NHS Trusts and health charities inform us; being outdoors and enjoying nature contributes to overall self-esteem and mood. From the two garden projects I visited recently it was obvious that community spirit has also helped to deliver an environment where BLF beneficiaries can feel supported and engaged. The Sydenham Garden Project, London and the Knowle West Community Health Project, Bristol, deliver therapeutic and counselling programmes that aim to improve the health and well-being of those suffering from various degrees of mental and physical health – and the health of the wider community.
Involving local communities not only raise valuable extra funding, but also bridge the stigma gap that is often associated with mental health. Both of these projects encourage interaction by running a number of activities such as growing and selling salad bags to locals and organising summer festivals. The business community also play their part. Both projects have been successful in offering corporate voluntary days. For the beneficiaries themselves there are plenty of activities designed to offer support and inclusion – arts and crafts; community kitchen courses; therapy sessions – often led by beneficiaries.
The BLF grant for The Sydenham Garden Project has enabled the charity to build a completely new site on abandoned local authority ground. Project manager Tom Gallagher informed me that before the project could begin a thick membrane had to be laid over contaminated soil and over 30 tons of top soil had to be distributed across the site in wheel barrows. On the day of my visit it was cold and windy but this did not detract from the obvious enjoyment the beneficiaries were displaying. It was the sense of occasion – doing something different from the norm that made this unique. Complete with bee hive, nature pond, orchard, a BLF funded toilet(!), vegetable patch and greenhouse, the project is still in development but the rewards are already being felt.
The Knowle West Project began life in a small community hut. 25 years later and under the direction of Chair and local resident Carol Casey, the Knowle West project is now firmly embedded in the community. The grant has enabled the charity to renovate an accessible high street property. Like the Sydenham project, beneficiaries are involved in the whole ‘growing’ experience in the nearby allotments – from seed planting through to cooking the produce in the community kitchen. Not only does this improve life skills, but the introduction of healthy meals will have positive effects on the beneficiaries’ mental health. Carols ‘not afraid to ask’ approach has ensured that Knowle West has built excellent partnerships throughout Bristol and will remain an asset to the community.
There is so much to learn from projects who actively promote their interests to the wider community. Having a sense of ownership is an important element to their success. What is evident is that both of these projects create an environment of engagement and inclusion that contributes to the mental and physical health of their beneficiaries and the communities in which they lie.
“Both my granddaughters Holly and Chloe attended the cooking sessions through the summer holidays on Mondays and I would just like to say they both thoroughly enjoyed these sessions and the products cooked were magnificent.”