When we look at our growing waiting list and can’t help thinking about those in the community who would love to grow vegetables but are disabled, ill or in long term recovery. How we can help them?
My article yesterday on raised beds drew a significant response from plot holders on many social sites who were gardening and growing despite their illness, stiffening joints, back problems, arthritis etc. It was heartening to hear that despite their challenges they were enjoying working their plots and adapting them to help.
Can we do more, and should we not only help the members but also reach out further into the community?
I am currently exploring the potential for a NHS workers plot. The plot is rented by a doctor from a city hospital and during the pandemic she has bought in a little team of nurses and staff to help her on the plot. It is now looking the best it has ever looked and it’s great to see these key workers unwind and relax on the plot. The doctor remains the member and we have merely extended the use of the plot to those we all want to say thank you to.
Should we also be doing more to help those members who are finding it harder to work their plots and help fund and build raised beds for them?
What about the community and its patients, long term sick, those recovering from serious illness and those with physical or mental disabilities and can we help them?
The NHS is now supporting social prescribing schemes which include gardening. The government plans that within the next five years over 2.5 million more people will benefit from social prescribing. Therapeutic horticulture has also been shown to help improve people’s communication and thinking skills.
One garden involved in the pilot scheme has patients from the NHS Simmons House Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatient Unit, who will be working with a local allotment association which offers gardening activities for people referred by their GP to the area's social prescribing scheme.
Down to Earth a not-for-profit organisation in Gloucestershire, supports people in growing and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables. Together with local doctors they have introduced a social prescribing scheme that allows patients to tend their own allotment. The organisation is not funded by the NHS and has established some 50 raised beds, each measuring 16 feet by 4 feet. Today it has five patients and plans to increase this to 15.
The Lambeth GP Food Co-op includes 11 GP practices in south London. Here patients with long-term conditions work together to grow food, which is then sold to King’s College Hospital, enabling one set of patients to provide food for another. Other examples include ‘reciprocal’ gardening schemes, which connect isolated older people with untended gardens with those who have no garden but want to garden and grow things. Horatio’s Garden, which provides gardens for patients with spinal injuries. The effects of gardens in care homes and hospices have been particularly well studied, particularly in dementia care. The King’s Fund programme works with almost 30 hospitals and 35 hospices has a strong focus on gardens. In Shetland “green prescriptions” help islanders with depression and anxiety with doctors recommending walks and activities that allow people to connect with the outdoors.
Unlike growing on individual allotments or private gardens, community gardening requires an element of cooperation and collective planning. Working together towards shared goals can create a real sense of community. Some argue allotments aren’t community gardens and forget that the land is community property and is only rented and leased as such. So perhaps Societies have to rethink membership and the community, and we all take a more holistic viewpoint.
When it comes to disabled it is often not a case of finding an area, building it and expecting a response we need to understand the needs of the users, what they are looking to grow, the frequency of their use, the supervision, the access etc.
At our Society’s AGM last year a mandate was given to explore using an area of one of our sites and create a high raised bed area for a disabled group. We also teamed up with the farm who had a similar area and were happy to work with us to make something happen. Then came the pandemic and everything went on temporary hold.
Care in the community be it on an individual or group level is something that allotments can and should consider. It may not work for some but can be rewarding for others and the one thing about the allotments is that they don’t do any harm – you can’t get any side effects!