Activities that promote social wellbeing don’t need to be particularly sophisticated or expensive, nor do they need to have social wellbeing as their main objective. Community gardening is rapidly growing in popularity as a low cost and environmentally benign activity that synergises really well with multiple objectives, such as providing active leisure, low-cost and non-stigmatized mental health support, but also raising awareness of opportunities for local production and consumption of healthy food. The Bridgend Growing Communities project in South Edinburgh is providing opportunities for community gardening, while also promoting public appreciation of locally produced food.
It definitely helps your wellbeing to be, well, working in nature, working in green space. Green space is beneficial to you. Coming here lets me have a purpose, and lets me have a focus and a goal, and I can witness how other people handle similar kind of problems to myself. Learning to contribute as well. And realising that I can contribute. There are known health benefits to people in terms of just being outdoors, working with other people, and seeing something go from nothing to something.
They say: I did that. And when you can actually grow food as well. People no longer do that, and when they taste something they’ve grown themselves, it has a huge impact on people. It just does. It makes them feel great about themselves and what they achieved. I think the external location helps me to move away from my internal dialogue. If I can focus, and see a wonderful, beautiful setting that gives me something else for my mind to focus on, it’s therapeutic to me. And one of the great things about doing this is that I can actually feel myself healing inside. And I never really expected that.
I expected I needed to do something far more arduous, like pumping iron or weights in the gym. It’s definitely creative for me, because I’m having to challenge myself all the time. Everybody has a skill. They’re coming here. They’re not in deficit mode, which they might have been told they are elsewhere in society. And they come here and find they’ve got skills that are valued. And they see their results. I enjoy getting involved and working with other people in things that are socially beneficial, socially useful, and are going to bring social benefit to people and to the community. We spend too much time as a society chasing monetary and material goals.
And we ought to maybe be more thinking in terms of people’s individual wellbeing and collective wellbeing. It brings together very disparate groups. And to see people that would never normally meet under any other circumstances, finding something in common, and learn from each other and share stuff, is good. And across ages as well. And culturally, gardening is a global thing. Growing things is global. When we’re sitting around and having a community meal, whether it’s in here or over in allotments, it gives the opportunity to speak and chat to people. And they come from all kinds of backgrounds. Just a community meal in and of itself, people enjoy.
Later on in the summer, when we just go and pick our own kale, and I’ll make colcannon. And we use the herbs with meats, and remedies that keep away colds and flus. And people have been amazed that even things they thought of as weeds have a health benefit. When I get involved in social interaction, it usually ends up I go to the pub, drinking and smoking and things like that. And so I like this kind of setting, just to get to know people. There’s just something for everybody. But mostly just being outdoors. Hear the birds sing. Everyone talks about mindfulness. When you’re outdoors doing something like that, all you can do is be mindful. You come away very, very relaxed.
And you don’t know why. And then you think, oh, yeah. It’s that gardening. Being outdoors.
So if community gardening is therapeutic for a wide variety of people, if it’s good for sociability, and if it produces healthy food while also enhancing the quality of the urban environment, it seems like a really promising and affordable source of social wellbeing.