How Does Community Growing Contribute to Reducing Health Inequalities?
What are Health Inequalities:
There are large differences in health and life expectancy between groups in Scottish society. These differences are increasingly being determined by factors like education, access to employment, quality of housing and a person’s position in society. Health inequality means that consistently, people from Scotland’s more deprived backgrounds are more likely to experience poorer mental and physical health than their wealthier counterparts.
About the Lochend Community Growing Project
Lochend is a mixed tenure housing estate in East Edinburgh which was originally built as social housing in the 1950s. It is an area of multiple deprivation, with high unemployment and economic inequality. Many residents commonly experience poor mental and physical health, addiction and social isolation. The Lochend Community Growing Project was set up in 2011 with the aims of creating a beautiful and welcoming community space for residents to learn to grow food, make new friends and feel happier and healthier as a result. The garden was completed in 2012 and now has 52 raised beds for individuals and households to grow food, community beds for groups, an outdoor kitchen and a large shed which doubles as a classroom. Inclusivity has always been central to the ethos of the project, which had a dedicated Outreach Worker for its first two years to specifically work to engage the hardest to reach in the area.
In the three years that the garden has been running, it has held twice weekly drop in volunteering sessions open to all, numerous social events, horticultural classes and arts and craft activities. All events are free or by donation, and the garden aims to reduce as many barriers to participation as possible.
How has community gardening impacted health inequalities in Lochend?
Community gardening by its very nature is a health-promoting activity, which can be welcoming and accessible to people across the entire spectrum of society. Growing food is an outdoor activity involving gentle physical exertion with the added benefit of spending time outside in nature. Apart from the physical benefits of exercise, community growing encourages healthier eating and learning about where fresh produce comes from, and how to cook it. Importantly, the social aspect of joining a group and being welcomed into a new community has great benefits for mental health and social isolation. In Lochend we asked our participants about each of these areas after one year of being involved with the garden. Overwhelmingly, the biggest response was that the gardeners valued the company of new friends most highly, and felt that their improved mental health through this support and sense of community had unlocked other health benefits. Having more confidence and feeling safer in their neighbourhood meant they were more able to join in other activities. The most popular activities were always the Grow Your Own Courses, as demand for growing food continues to increase.
What have you enjoyed the most?
“Comraderie”, “the community spirit” , “community and growing”, “ making and meeting new friends” “this garden has allowed me to garden again with a disability and meet more people in Lochend”, “ this garden in my community has given me a reason to leave my flat. Thank you deeply. All communities need this.”, “I was in a very dark place before I joined this garden. It has saved my life”
100% of participants felt that the social aspects had been of greatest value to them
100% of participants felt less isolated in their community
94% learnt new skills
88% feel more positive about themselves
88% did more exercise than before they joined
82% felt that Lochend community had become safer and more supportive since the garden began
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