Community development at the allotment

About the project:

The Community Garden in Stockwood is one of the community development projects set up by St Monica Trust with the aim of empowering local older people to make changes in their local areas as a way of preventing loneliness and social isolation for themselves and their neighbours. 

The project was set up by a community development worker at St Monica Trust before Jan took over the project. Her predecessor had worked to connect local older people with a common interest in developing a community garden and allotment space on a barren piece of land next to the children’s centre.  The benefits are enormous to everyone in involved; helping to improve people’s health & well-being, reducing social isolation & loneliness,  bringing the community together, learning and sharing skills, eating healthily, intergenerational activities. 

 

A participant’s story:

Pete is a tattoo artist, originally from Leeds, who has been attending the garden project every Thursday since it began in January 2018. He was introduced to the group by “some older chaps” from his sheltered housing accommodation.

Pete has been living with mental health problems for a number of years, which has caused him to feel socially isolated. Since joining the group, however, he has felt that he is “slowly, slowly getting better.”

Pete says, “I like being out in the open space, I get good thoughts. I can be myself. I’ve made lots of friends here, it’s nice… Some of the other chaps have mental health issues too and we support one another, treating each other as equals – you can practice being a ‘normal’ human being. Everyone is really lovely with a good attitude.”

At the group, Pete describes his role as “general dogsbody.” He is happy to pitch in with whatever needs doing and being part of the group. This involves everything from planting and willowing, mulching apples and harvesting the vegetables they grow in the garden. Often the group will take home vegetables from the session: carrots, tomatoes, turnips, beetroots … Pete tells us they’ve had a good crop this year and that “next year will be even better.”

Pete and other members from the group recently also attended some cookery lessons taking place locally that were recommended by the community development worker at St Monica Trust.

 

Learning:

At the outset, when Jan took over from her predecessor, the group was already well established and self-sufficient, but occasionally needed guidance and reassurance to help them feel confident in the decisions they were making. Jan had some difficulties in encouraging the group to be more independent in their decision-making, as she had to point out that her role was temporary and decisions needed to rest with the community.

In these kinds of projects, it needs to be made clear from the outset that the role of the community development worker is to support in setting up a project, and then taking a step back to allow the community to lead on their own project.


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