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Latest News

A dose of nature: gardens are good for you!

In the run up to Healthy City Week 2016, we’ll be showcasing innovative ideas and highlighting key topics to explore wellbeing that doesn’t cost the earth.

In the first of the series, Victoria Hill, Director of award-winning social enterprise Growing Support, shares her reflections on why gardens are good for you.

During Healthy City Week, Growing Support volunteers will be working in care home gardens and community allotments across Bristol to enable people living with dementia to participate in community gardening groups and get their weekly “dose of nature”.

The health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature, gardening and being with friends are well known.

More demanding jobs such as digging, weeding or watering are great physical exercise and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and cancer. Even gentle exercise such a planting up a container or potting-on helps maintain those muscles vital to stay independent and can help improve balance and reduce falls.

Gardening, or spending time in the garden, has mental health benefits too. It can help reduce anxiety and stress and ease agitation and aggression sometimes experienced by people living with dementia.

Maintaining social connections is also good for us. It not only gives us pleasure, it is as important to our wellbeing as having enough sleep, eating well and not smoking.

Overcoming barriers

growing-support-gardener-and-volunteer-photoThe number of people with dementia is growing due to an ageing population: recent reports state that 2,160 people in Bristol have been diagnosed with the condition, but historically low diagnosis rates mean the real number is estimated at 4,500. The number of dementia patients in Bristol is expected to increase by 23 per cent over the next two decades.

People living with dementia face many obstacles to benefiting from community gardening activities. These range from access issues such as lack of transport, uneven paths or inadequate toilet facilities to concerns about whether the gardening group will be able to provide the right level of help and support. They are are at increasing risk of spending too much time indoors, becoming more socially isolated and less physically active.

growing-support-dale-and-seated-ladyGrowing Support believes that age or disability should not be a barrier to being active in the community. With the support of Bristol Public Health, the Bristol Dementia Wellbeing Service, the Bristol Ageing Better Partnership and care providers across the city we have helped establish 30 new gardening groups in Bristol and the surrounding area for people with dementia and their carers. Gardening activities take place in a location most accessible to our gardeners and where there is support available such as the garden of their care home or day centre.

Our typical gardener is over 70 and faces many day-to-day challenges such as limited mobility, impaired sight or hearing or difficulty remembering how to perform tasks. And yet, this doesn’t prevent them from taking part in all kinds of gardening activity from growing food and maintaining the garden to painting garden furniture or making scarecrows.

Of course not everyone is able to dig holes or pull up weeds. Others enjoy more gentle involvement such as selecting which flowers to plant or sensory activities like stroking gorgeously soft lambs ear (Stachys Byzantina) or eating a yummy fresh tomato, still warm from the sun.

Volunteers are the key to success

Volunteers are key to making all this happen. Growing Support trains local volunteers and matches them to gardening groups. They take an enabling role providing the individual support to enable everyone to make a meaningful contribution. Perhaps most importantly, volunteers help maintain a social connection with the local community.

untitledOur gardening groups prove that with a little help everyone can contribute to and benefit from a thriving growing space.

Growing Support gardening groups depend on the support of volunteers. If you would like to find out how you can help people with dementia living near you to stay healthy and active then please visit our website or get in touch with Sam on

Growing Support received recognition in 2016 in the Third Sector Excellence Awards 2016: Small Charity Big Achiever and the Observer and NEST New Radicals 2016:

Get involved in nature & wellbeing activities during Healthy City Week…

  • Help tidy up St Pauls Learning Centre garden and put it to bed for the winter with Dig it! Get active, get green, feel good! Tuesday 18th Oct  11am–4pm St Pauls Learning Centre Garden. Free, drop-in
  • Learn about protecting the health of our water & environment in a lunchtime talk from Patric Bulmer, Bristol Water on Tuesday 18th Oct 12.30–1.30pm in the Healthy City Week Hub at Triodos Bank.
  • Walk with the Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HEEAG) Strollers on Wed 19th Oct 10–10.45am (Meet at The Roundhouse, Bourchier Garden Allotments, Crosscombe Drive, Hartcliffe. Free, drop-in
  • West of England Nature Partnership explore how nature and health partners can work together in ‘A Natural Health Service: Developing partnerships on Thursday 20th Oct 6–8.30pm in the Healthy City Week Hub at Triodos Bank. Free, book online
  • Immerse yourself in nature in a Wellies for Wellbeing walk with Bristol Mental Health 2–4pm Meet in front of Blaise Castle House Museum, Blaise Castle Estate. Free, book online or call 0117 354 6200
  • Discover the enriching power of nature with a stroll through the grounds at the Autumn Open Day at Penny Brohn UK National Centre Sat 22nd Oct 10am–4pm Chapel Pill Lane Tickets £4 on the door, under 14s free
  • Join Bristol Public Health in a Stoke Park Sculpture trail walk on Sat 22nd Oct 10am–12noon Free, contact organiser to book
  • Be a farmer for the day with Bristol Community Farm at the Community Farmer Day, book online
  • Take part in Seeding a song of nature: Closer to home with Imayla CIC and join a roam around the Farm, the Community Gardens and Narroways Open Space 2–5pm St Werburgh’s City Farm Free, drop-in

Download a PDF version of the Healthy City Week brochure

View our online calendar for daily listings and online booking links

Volunteer at Healthy City Week 2016

Find more Healthy City Week related news, blogs and opportunities.

Nature, Health & Wellbeing, Blog, Healthy City Week
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