Gardening improves health and wellbeing for city’s most vulnerable people

Statistics illustrate how the Food Partnership's work changes lives

by Jess Crocker, Harvest team manager

Our new report shows how getting outdoors to grow food can transform health and wellbeing, especially for vulnerable groups such as adults with learning disabilities or those recovering from addiction, mental health issues or homelessness.

Since 2009, the Food Partnership has been helping people in the city to setup and run community gardens – to transform unused spaces in their community and to grow food together. We have seen how community gardens make people happier and healthier, so two years ago, we started the ‘Sharing the Harvest’ project to help more vulnerable adults in the city to try growing food.

With our partners, we run regular gardening sessions, one-off ‘taster’ days and give volunteering advice for anyone interested in trying food growing. We have worked with over 1300 vulnerable adults in the last two years.

We are working with national leaders, the University of Essex, to measure the impact of this work. Over 500 people have completed questionnaires for the research and the findings indicate that our work “delivers significant benefits & improvements in mental health and wellbeing, physical health and activity, and skills and confidence for vulnerable adults.”

Some of the highlights of the report include:

  • 96% of participants reported improved happiness, mood or wellbeing
  • 86% reported improved physical health
  • 88% improved their skills or confidence
  • 41% increase in ‘I often eat meals cooked from basic ingredients, either by myself or someone else.’
  • 69% increase in teamwork skills
  • 49% increase in communication skills
  • 80% reported that coming to the garden would have a long-term impact on them in future

We were proud to present these findings to our partners at an event at the Mayor’s Parlour last week, and we will be sharing them with people from across the country at the Growing Health conference on gardening for wellbeing in London in December 2016.

Reading some of the quotes from the research gives a sense of the impact that gardening has had on people's lives:

  • I suffer from anxiety and the gardening sessions are calming and boost my mood. I leave feeling more relaxed.
  • Sometimes when I am depressed I miss coming but I know that if I make the effort to get here I will instantly feel better.
  • Coming up to the allotment has influenced my diet changes. I now eat healthier food...Before I was coming to the allotment I was basically eating junk food.
  • If I look back to how I was when I first started I have changed so much in my confidence and social skills so yes, that will change my future life.
  • I want to do more cooking. I made flat bread for the first time today and I never knew I could do that!
  • I feel more confident, more healthy, I’m using every single muscle in my body. It’s exercise. I sleep better at night.
  • The garden gives me confidence to try new foods and I’m more open minded... eg eating a bit of leaf.
  • I need to do stuff like this. I’m a year off the drink and I’m moving into my own flat out of the hostel. So I need a routine, doing stuff regularly... So this has a massive impact on my future and it’s an important part of my recovery plan.
  • This garden is great because it’s accessible for all types of people. If someone has a disability you can always find something for them to do. There’s not many environments that there is such a variety of things that need to be done, that there’s something that everybody can do.

Download a brief summary, or read the full report (pdf).