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From green shoots, great things grow
A huge part of social prescribing is about using local activities to connect us with others. By reducing our sense of isolation, those activities can help reduce the pressure on GPs. On paper, it sounds simple. But how does it work in practice?
In March I got the chance to find out – with a visit to one of the projects that won a share of our Healthy Communities Scheme funding this year. I visited the community allotment at Dovercourt Surgery which is run by the surgery and Heeley City Farm. Located just outside the centre of Sheffield, the surgery is in one of the most deprived areas of the UK.
When I arrived, I got to speak to one of the GPs at the surgery who supports the allotment who told me about their future plans to forge links with the neighbouring primary school to help encourage healthy eating habits in children from a young age. We also talked about how social interaction is so important and how the allotment has made a difference to the volunteers.
“A lot of us are on our own – I’m on my own so it’s nice to get out and see people. Everyone’s friendly and we all get on well with each other.”
After speaking to Dr Read, I met Jo from Heeley City Farm and went onto the allotment. When the volunteers arrived there was a real sense of community, everyone was happy to see one another and the group was very welcoming. I was shown the different plants and vegetables which the volunteers get to take home; any that are leftover are put into the surgery for other patients to take. The community has a high incidence of mental health and long-term conditions – growing food in a group with others and eating more fresh fruit and veg is just one way to help manage these.
All the volunteers got stuck in straight away, some digging beds to sow wildflowers, some tidying the edges of the allotment and some planting new vegetable seeds in pots to be planted on the allotment later.
Some of the volunteers were very quiet when they first arrived but once they got started they became very chatty – telling me about other schemes they were involved with and how gardening was like therapy because you can get out, meet people and socialise in a community with lots of social isolation.
Volunteers come to the garden whatever the weather, even when it’s just too wet or windy to work on it. While I was there we spent some time putting pebbles onto the allotment that the group had decorated when the weather was bad a couple of weeks earlier.
At the end of the session everyone regrouped for a cup of tea and I got to speak to another one of the volunteers: “We really enjoy coming week after week. As well as seeing the other members of the group, seeing the crops go from seed to vegetable really is amazing.” Many of the volunteers have changed their outlook for the better since joining the group, finding a niche where they feel accepted and safe.
Most striking of all was the difference in some of the volunteers from when they arrived to when they left. I’m looking forward to seeing how the scheme develops, to going back to meet more of the volunteers – and to seeing how this very special garden continues to grow.