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gorse hill allotment

Cultivating resilience: community gardening can benefit all ages

The Growing Connections project is supporting community gardens to be age-friendly and inclusive in everything they do.

Sustain’s Chris Speirs writes for us on the importance of making community gardening accessible to all.

Community gardening and food growing in the UK has a long, proud history. It has endured in even densely populated urban areas as our towns and cities have changed over the years. But the space available has shrunk, while the demand has grown – with allotment waiting lists having closed in some London boroughs and stretching to many decades in others.

The Sustain Capital Growth network was set up to support and develop spaces for community food growing. We wanted to make sure food growing was accessible to as many people as possible, and bring food growing spaces to our doorsteps, our streets and our schools.

A crucial part of making these opportunities fully inclusive is ensuring that community growing is accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Community gardening must be inclusive for everyone

There’s been a growing awareness and interest in the mental health, wellbeing and the therapeutic benefits of these kinds of activities. But we also need to recognise the importance of accessibility, and how to support the intergenerational aspect of community volunteering – which has a huge potential to bring together people of all ages.

Many of our garden leaders are over 50, and most of them are volunteers. The responsibility for managing the garden, the growing calendar, the project, volunteers and activities can be extremely demanding, so it’s crucial we’re able to properly support both the volunteer project leaders and the community of volunteers that have come to rely on these projects.  

That’s why we started Growing Connections. It’s one of five projects awarded funding by the Centre for Ageing Better and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to pilot ways of making volunteering more age-friendly and inclusive. We’ve identified four flagship gardens which do well at including people of all ages, and are working with them to learn lessons we can share with other voluntary organisations.

Here’s a bit more information about these amazing projects:

Sydenham Garden, Lewisham is a wellbeing centre specialising in using gardening and activity rooms to support people in recovery from mental and physical ill-health. They work hard on inclusivity, from having heated greenhouses so people can work comfortably in winter to making pathways and toilets suitable for people with mobility needs.

Spitalfields City Farm, Tower Hamlets sits on land first squatted by the community to grow food almost 50 years ago. Now a well-established city farm and volunteer programme, several different groups run in the farm, including the Coriander Club, which specialises in growing herbs, salad and vegetables which are used daily by the local community.

Community plot at Whetstone Stray allotments is a grassroots community project which works with people with a range of needs, including learning and memory difficulties, many of whom are over 50. The garden has an inclusive approach and a background in social and therapeutic horticulture.

Hackney Herbal  provides training in propagating, harvesting and drying herbs, and using them in food and medicines. As well as pioneering new kinds of courses, they’ve done great work to get people who were originally clients to volunteer to run them.

Gardening and food growing are important for boosting individual wellbeing and bringing people together within and between communities.
Learning lessons from good practice in the community

The next phase is to spend time learning from our flagship gardens, the volunteers and Community Garden leaders. Volunteers do a variety of activities from propagating seeds to harvesting the produce. We want to know how the gardens make these activities accessible to all their volunteers, some of whom are in their 80s or older. Then we’ll test out those approaches with ‘buddy gardens’ keen to implement good practice themselves.

Gardening and food growing are important for boosting individual wellbeing and bringing people together within and between communities. This is particularly important for people in later life, who may lose social connections when they leave work, their circumstances change or they find it harder to stay active. It’s essential we make sure that the people who can benefit most from these opportunities aren’t locked out; inclusivity must be at the heart of our projects.

Spreading understanding and good practice across London’s Community Gardening network will unlock the benefits of community gardening for all.

Age-friendly and inclusive volunteering: Review of community contributions in later life

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