The links between gardening and health can often be spiritual. That is why the Green Health project is encouraging faith-based organisations to use the spaces around their buildings for simple therapeutic gardening projects. Planting a bulb and watching it grow can make a big difference.
The Green Health Awards – launched in partnership with The Conservation Foundation, The Church Times and the Guild of Health and St Raphael, with the support of the Church of England and the Mercers’ Company – promote links between nature and human health. Their object is to encourage and reward efforts by churches of all denominations and other Christian organisations to use gardens and churchyards creatively for wellbeing. They build on the success of The Conservation Foundation’s Gardening Against The Odds programme and last year’s Church Times Green Church Awards.
Projects must promote mental and/or physical wellbeing, and take place on ground that belongs to a Christian church or organisation anywhere in the UK.
Winners received their awards during a ceremony at Lambeth Palace in the autumn, as part of the Green Health Live conference. Ten projects chosen on merit were presented with a certificate and a set of gardening tools restored in prisons as part of The Conservation Foundation’s Tools Shed project. The Growing Calm Award, presented by the Mind and Soul Foundation, focused on gardens providing meditation, contemplation and silence. The Allchurches Trust Community Nurture Award recognised excellent work in a deprived neighbourhood. The overall winner, St Paul’s Church Camden Square, received £2000 and the Gardening Against The Odds trophy for a year. Listen to them being interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme.
The benefits of gardens
Mental health problems in local communities are now one of the biggest social issues Church of England clergy encounter, according to research published earlier this year. A survey of more than 1,000 senior clergy found that the proportion reporting that mental health is a ‘major’ or ‘significant’ problem in their local area increased sharply from 40% in 2011 to 60% in 2017. Research by the King’s Fund in 2016 found that gardening reduces depression, social isolation, anxiety and stress and alleviates symptoms of dementia.
In cities and towns, however, growing space is at a premium, and allotment waiting lists are more likely to be measured in years than months. The Green Health Awards recognise that churches are already using their green spaces to address this need, using their outdoor environment to promote mental and physical health.
Churchyards can be tightly regulated, and many have been designated sites of special scientific interest, but congregations have found these no hindrance to imaginative and sensitive projects.
The Green Health Live conference and awards have created a real buzz of excitement that feels like we are at the beginning of something really special. We want to build on this and are keen to meet others who feel the same. Some who are already doing something – others who would like to get involved.
For example, we need to make contact with doctors who are already working in the field of therapeutic gardening or who are referring patients to gardening projects. We would also like to meet more garden project organisers who are using church space or would if they could find some space.
We plan to make a ‘how to do it’ video where those who have created a therapeutic garden can join forces with those who know what to know before starting and which plants have special qualities to enhance relaxation and grow in unusual places. And as always it would be good to raise funding to help some projects get started. We are convinced that one day Green Health will be even more widespread and so do let us know if you can help.