Following a year and a half in lockdown keeping our hands clean, it seems that getting your hands dirty may be the key to boosting your health and mental wellbeing. That’s why an opportunity to arise in Crediton could provide a lifeline for local people, as Bracken Jelier discovered when she visited the Barnfield community allotment.
Nestled on top of the hill at Barnfield with sweeping views across the whole of Crediton, lies a thriving community allotment. As part of Westbank’s Healthy Neighbourhoods Project, the community allotment promotes health and wellbeing opportunities, particularly for those suffering isolation or going through a difficult period in their lives. The project is funded by the Lottery and has also been supported by Morrison’s Foundation.
When Healthy Neighbourhoods first joined the allotment space, it was overgrown and in need of some TLC, but with the help of volunteers and seasonal workers overseen by activity and volunteer coordinator, Katheryn Hope, the ground was levelled, raised beds built and produce planted. Now it thrives, buzzing with activity, swelling with vegetables, fruit and flowers and providing a haven for wildlife and growers alike. Healthy Neighbourhoods are indebted to Crediton Tesco Community Champion, Andrew Drayton, for going above and beyond to support the project making raised beds, benches, hand rails and even an archway for the allotment.
But why is gardening so good for wellbeing? Research conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and the University of Virginia, found that it boosts mental health, eases episodes of depression, boosts energy levels and reduces stress.
The study, of more than 6,000 UK residents, found that people who garden frequently (at least two or three times a week) felt less stress and an increased sense of wellbeing. People who garden every day had wellbeing scores 6.6% higher, and stress levels 4.2% lower, than those who did not garden at all.
Allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence pointing back to Anglo-Saxon times. But the system we recognise today has its roots in the 19th Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing.
Community allotments enable people of all ages and backgrounds to grow as a group. They provide healthy, cheap and fresh food, as well as a range of skill building opportunities, companionship and physical and mental health benefits. There are also a number of children’s activities organised.
But a community allotment would not function well without dedicated volunteer leaders. Not only do these volunteers give their valuable time to help maintain the plot, but they also play an important role in engaging with visiting groups and individuals, to facilitate learning experiences and the growing of fruit and vegetables. Katheryn Hope, along with the seasonal workers, engages with visiting groups and individuals.
I talked to David Garland, one of Westbank’s seasonal allotment workers to find out what makes it so special and why they are looking for more volunteers: “Being close to nature is a big part of the wellbeing side of working here. Also being part of a community. Sometimes that can be missing in our society, so an opportunity to come and be with other people and work on something together can be really beneficial.”
David is there every Wednesday to help guide volunteers and show them what they could get involved with. He also runs small courses:
As part of the Healthy Neighbourhoods project, I’m going to be running a session on how to make liquid feeds from things like nettles, comfrey and seaweed that you can then use to feed your plants. We’ll also be doing training sessions that cover things like ‘how to grow flowers on your allotment’.
Katheryn Hope says:
The great outdoors and the satisfaction of growing your own can bring great joy and people of all ages together. We aim to provide a thriving allotment with incredible opportunities for our community to learn and develop basic horticultural skills in a supportive environment. We can cover anything from learning about healthy eating, recycling and environmental sustainability right down to how to grow the tallest sunflower or make a terrifying scarecrow.
Our allotment is suitable for all to come down and turn their hand at growing their own. All produce grown at our allotment will be available to those in need in our community, so if you would like to get involved please get in touch.
Note: The music used on the short film about Westbank’s Community Allotment in Crediton is credited to Bensound.com.