To mark National Allotments Week, Quality Compliance Systems (QCS) has teamed up with the National Care Forum to ask its members why green spaces are so important to them.
During the Second World War, 1.4 million allotments* helped to feed the nation. Seventy-five years on, as the world battles to contain the Covid-19 Pandemic, the 330,000 allotments in the UK**, are again proving their worth – albeit in a very different way. While they may no longer be Britain’s breadbasket, allotments provide a spiritual oasis where people can reconnect with nature, and they’re also the glue that moulds, shapes and strengthens communities.
At Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), a major provider of content and compliance tools for the care sector, we have found that gardens and allotments have served to enrich our flexible working strategy. Many of our staff enjoy working in their gardens or allotments in their spare time. They say that they are therapeutic environments that have sparked creativity, and improved their mental and physical wellbeing during the lockdown.
EVERYONE CAN HAVE ACCESS TO ALLOTMENT AND GARDENS
In residential care settings too, green spaces play an extremely important role in the lives of the residents. But for those living with dementia, visiting an allotment or gardening in a home can be chal- lenging. It requires ingenuity and innovation, which Haviland House Dementia Care Home maintenance team employed to great effect when it created an indoor allotment for its residents, called the Ashmount Garden Room.
Andrew Whitman, a spokesman for Guild Care, which operates Haviland House, paints a picture of the allotment, “The ceiling has been painted to look like the sky with clouds dotted around, the walls wrapped like a garden scene, the cupboards look like sheds and the window sills are covered head-to-toe in butterflies, plants, binoculars and other little outdoor themed trinkets which bring the room to life.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF RAISED BEDS
Some 70 miles away in High Wycombe, at the Royal Star & Garter care home, 87-year old David, who’s also living with dementia, is still able to enjoy daily visits to the garden thanks to helpful staff and sever- al raised planting beds, which were installed last year.
David’s daughter, Kate, explains the benefits that her father receives from gardening.
She says, “…It gives Dad focus. He’s planted runner beans and now he’s having them for tea, which is lovely. It’s linked him back to some- thing he’s always loved. He’s in a different place here, but the routine can continue. That helps lessen anxiety and confusion, and that’s a big thing. It gets him outside and exercising too which is hugely important for wellbeing.”
Perhaps though the real power of allotments and gardens lies in their widespread appeal. Indeed, they are the cement that helps to bridge different generations inspiring them to collaborate.
Take Kelvin, Alan and Michael, for example. They live together and receive support from Real Life Options, a charity which specialises in helping people with learning disabilities and autism.
Eighteen months ago, the trio approached their Service Manager, Soneni Pearson. They had seen a piece of land adjacent to their home and were keen to see if they could convert it into an allotment. With Soneni’s help, they applied to Leeds City Council. A few months later, to their delight, they found out that their application had been successful.
With the support of the Real Life Options team, and lots of hard toil, they have transformed the space into a fully functioning vegetable gar- den, which provides them with home-grown organic fruit and vegeta- bles, not to mention a refuge from Covid.
Soneni says, “The allotment has been a great haven during the Covid 19 pandemic. It has provided a safe place for Kelvin, Alan and Michael to remain physically active whilst social distancing, which has been fantastic for their mental health and wellbeing.”
Liz Jones of the National Care Forum, adds, “The experience of the COVID lockdown has highlighted to us all how important it is to be able to get outside and enjoy fresh air and the power of nature. This is just as important for our more vulnerable people including those receiving care and support, as we know how much being in the open air, be that gardens, allotments or beautiful outdoor spaces, can help to improve people’s overall health and wellbeing.”
GARDEN AND ALLOTMENTS HELPING TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF IN-HOUSE ACTIVITIES
For Tom Harrison, Director of Operations and his colleagues, who work for Ambient Support, the gardens and green spaces at the projects and schemes in which they operate, have not only been “a sanctuary for service users and staff” during the pandemic, but are helping Ambient’s staff to re-evaluate and re-assess their approach to activities. The charity, which provides care and support services for older people, people with a learning disability and those with a mental health need has operated a gardening and horticulture project in South London for over a decade. Last year it opened a horticulture hub for service users at one of its projects in Bromley. It includes raised beds, greenhouse and even a training room, which provides courses to any budding green fingered volunteers.
He explains, “Gardens and allotments can teach us so much. In the Coronavirus lockdown, they have illustrated that “being” is the “new doing” in learning disability and mental health services. Going green really helps improve wellbeing. We have discovered that while a full and varied programme of activities is very important, many of those that use our services have been happier and less anxious whilst their choice of social activities have been restricted. We’ve noticed too that relationships in the lockdown have flourished. What’s more, often the bonding process begins in tranquil outdoor spaces like gardens and allotments. That, I think, is their greatest strength.”
As well as producing a bountiful supply of healthy organic vegetables for service users to enjoy, the questions of how we, as a society, make use of green spaces in the future provides much food for thought.
QCS would like to thank the NCF and its members for sharing their experiences and stories.
* How Britain utilised allotments during two world wars: The era of ‘growing’ your own Sky History https://www.history.co.uk/article/how-brits-utilised-allotments-during-two-world-wars-the-era-of-‘growing-your-own’
**Figure confirmed by the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners