Studies have shown that on average, a 10 per cent increase in exposure to green space translates into five years of better health (The King’s Fund, 2013).
People living in neighbourhoods experiencing disadvantage have less access to green spaces, which is a significant factor of health inequalities. The UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published last year, prioritised connecting people to the natural world in order to improve their health and wellbeing and inspire environmentally conscious behaviour.
In recent years, it has been widely acknowledged that allotment gardening has a role to play in promoting self-esteem, developing social networks and alleviating mental health issues (Wood et al, 2015). Fruit and vegetables grown and harvested by allotment gardeners offer additional health and environmental benefits. Compared to its supermarket equivalent, the produce is untreated, local and seasonal. According to the National Allotment Society (NAS), a well-maintained allotment can produce enough food to substitute a family's weekly shop with fresh, healthy produce over the year.
National Allotment Week, hosted by NAS since 2002, ran from 12-18 August this year. The theme, ‘Shared Harvest’, encouraged allotment gardeners to share their produce and gardening knowledge with members of the local community and food banks.
Various projects funded by People’s Health Trust help strengthen local communities by supporting residents to design and cultivate their own allotment spaces. The ‘Windsor Food Street’, run by community and arts health organisation Squash in Liverpool, is a project that invites members to grow food in their existing community food garden and share plants and produce with the wider community in Windsor Street, Toxteth. They also sell the produce and plants in their community-run shop on the street. The long-term aim is to create an edible landscape for residents to enjoy.
Project member, Jason, said: “I first joined the group six years ago as I wanted to gain practical knowledge about growing food and gardening. There are no other inexpensive, inclusive places in our area where like-minded people from different backgrounds can come together to socialise and share a hobby.
“During my first session, I planted a cherry tree, which was a rewarding and memorable experience. Since then, I have gained the confidence to try new things. Recently, I even took up a permaculture course.”
A resident-led Steering Group plans activities to get their neighbours involved with growing and cooking food produced in the community food garden, as well as eating together.
Jason added: “We organise events for the local community like the monthly free café, where we can share our knowledge about seasonal produce and promote local growing.”
All projects funded by the Trust enable residents to take action on issues that are important to them. Blooming Bootle, a project run by The Gateway Collective, was set up by a group of residents who wanted to improve a commercial path between two community parks in Bootle, Liverpool. Volunteers come together every week to plant edible plants and flowers on the ever-evolving path.
One project member, Jay Morris, said: “Volunteering at the garden has significantly improved my mental health and given me a sense of belonging. I have met some great people and learnt valuable skills from activities such as planting seeds, harvesting and weeding.”
Project members are planning to enter the garden in the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘In Bloom’ competition for Bootle.
Project Coordinator, Ali Horton, added: “Our summer party coincided with National Allotments Week in August. Instead of gardening, for one evening, we relaxed and celebrated our achievements with members of the wider community. It’s great to be able to share home-grown food and recipes from different cultures with our neighbours. The new pizza oven was also a massive hit and it was satisfying to decorate the pizzas with onions and tomatoes we had grown and picked!”
Community-based approaches for growing, cooking and eating food are central to ‘Food Citizenship’, a new idea in the UK food and farming sector, which encourages residents to take an active role in shaping local food systems.
To learn more about how local communities can work together to make healthy and sustainable food a priority, click here.
Find out more about this year’s theme for National Allotments Week here.
To read more news from the Trust, click here.
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