The power of green: how community gardens tackle our biggest challenges

News item first posted on: 31/03/22

A community that ‘grows’ is a healthy community. Up and down the UK, thousands of humble community gardens and green spaces are tackling some of our biggest challenges. Community gardens provide a myriad of outcomes to address current challenges facing our society, bringing together people from many different communities and cultures. 


We spoke to our team from around the UK; Caroline Hutton (Social Farms & Gardens Trustee and former Director at Martineau Gardens, Birmingham) Gary Mitchell (Social Farms & Gardens Wales Manager) and Patricia Wallace (Social Farms & Gardens Northern Ireland Manager) about what community gardens do, whey they’re important and how these small often overlooked pockets of green could help us tackle some of the biggest issues facing our society.

“Community gardens bring together people who might never meet otherwise. There is a shared enjoyment and connection of being outdoors, the pleasure of seeing plants grow and noticing the wildlife that depends on the plants. They provide a place of learning for adults and children who have little contact with the natural environment”, Caroline. Community gardens provide opportunities for people who may be living with disability, mental ill health or other issues that exclude them from society to volunteer gaining companionship, new skills and sense of self worth.

Gary “One of the beauties of supporting Community Gardening at a UK wide level is to see, hear & gain the opportunity to literally get your hands dirty across a huge variety of community gardens settings. No two community gardens are the same, many have specific areas of focus (mental wellbeing, climate, Social Cohesion, skills & training) but many don’t, choosing to operate an open door policy across a range of social interests.” 

In times of crisis throughout history, local food production by communities has often witnessed a huge surge in scale; we witnessed this through this pandemic, where community growing strengthened community resilience and bought people together, as well as providing food to local people. 
Gary says “Often food growing is not the key focus, favouring social outputs over production. With over 1000 community gardens, there is a huge groundswell of activity right across the UK.” In Belfast we have seen a phenomenon of alleyway gardens spring up around the city, turning unloved alleyways into places where people from all ages and backgrounds can meet in a safe space. In London people are turning small plots on housing estates into community growing projects. People all over the UK are coming together to grow, and feeling more connected because of it.

Gary says “With the Climate and Nature emergencies high on everyone agenda it’s important to recognise the vast contribution community gardens make to these important issues. Often community gardens are exemplars of best practice in things like pollination, pesticide reduction, water saving etc.” 

“We know from the global discussions at COP26 that we need to grow more local food, and in a regenerative way in harmony with nature reducing the use of chemicals used and looking after our soil health for future generations. Climate change can feel like a global problem that the individual can do little about. A community garden is a practical local example of where individuals coming together as a community group can make a positive impact on wildlife and nature.” Patricia 

People often describe community gardens as a lifeline. They can be an oasis of green in a busy polluted city or that special place in the village that brings people together. In all cases, they are places that are growing ‘Community’.
Social Farms & Gardens works with over 1000 community gardens and have been working for over 40 years to ensure that that number grows. We work with local authorities to ensure that public land can be leased, licensed or transferred to communities for food growing, if you’d like support to set up your own community garden, download our free resource here.

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