An award scheme launched today (Thursday 3 May) in National Gardening Week is encouraging churches to use their green spaces to help communities benefit from improved mental and physical wellbeing.
The Green Health Awards — launched in partnership with The Conservation Foundation and the Guild of Health and St Raphael, with the support of the Church of England and the Mercers’ Company — promote links between nature and human health. Their object is to encourage and reward efforts by churches of all denominations and other Christian organisations to use gardens and churchyards creatively for wellbeing. They build on the success of The Conservation Foundation’s Gardening Against The Odds* programme and last year’s Church Times Green Church Awards.
Projects must promote mental and/or physical wellbeing, and take place on ground that belongs to a Christian church or organisation anywhere in the UK.
Winners will receive their awards during a ceremony at Lambeth Palace on 2 October, as part of the Green Health Live conference. Ten projects will be chosen on merit and presented with a certificate and a set of gardening tools restored in prisons as part of the Conservation Foundation’s Tools Shed project. The Growing Calm Award, presented by the Mind and Soul Foundation, will focus on gardens providing meditation, contemplation and silence. The overall winner will be given a cash award and the Gardening Against The Odds trophy for a year.
The Benefits of gardens
Gardeners have always understood the power of gardens and gardening to heal the mind, body and spirit, but in recent years accepted wisdom has been backed up by evidence-based research. As a result, gardening is increasingly prescribed as an effective treatment for a growing variety of mental and physical illnesses.
Mental health problems in local communities are now one of the biggest social issues Church of England clergy encounter, according to research published earlier this year. A survey of more than 1,000 senior clergy found that the proportion reporting that mental health is a ‘major’ or ‘significant’ problem in their local area increased sharply from 40% in 2011 to 60% in 2017. Research by the King’s Fund in 2016 found that gardening reduces depression, social isolation, anxiety and stress and alleviates symptoms of dementia.
In cities and towns, however, growing space is at a premium, and allotment waiting lists are more likely to be measured in years than months. The Green Health Awards recognise that churches are already using their green spaces to address this need, using their outdoor environment to promote mental and physical health.
Churchyards can be tightly regulated, and many have been designated sites of special scientific interest, but congregations have found these no hindrance to imaginative and sensitive projects.
Some existing projects
St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham, began working with volunteers and patients from Ladywell NHS Mental Health Unit in the church garden three years ago. This resulted in the opening of a therapeutic garden, with the first turf cut by BBC Gardeners’ World presenter, Flo Headlam. Volunteers from the unit and church work together, with major works timetabled for what are termed ‘community build days’ throughout the season. This busy area of Lewisham has some of the worst health-inequality indicators in the country, especially for black and minority ethnic groups. The Vicar, the Revd Steve Hall, said: “We believe there is great therapeutic value in gardening for mental health and wellbeing. St Mary’s therapeutic garden has truly become a community project, bringing around 60 volunteers together, with a sense of therapy, healing and fun for everyone involved.”
St Paul’s, West Hackney, uses its green spaces for community outreach. North London Action for the Homeless works in the Evering Road Kitchen Garden, next to the church, to grow produce that they then serve to local people. After almost eight years in operation, the project is placing a more explicit focus on wellbeing, and now has a mental-health support worker.
The Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and Lead Bishop on Healthcare, said: “These awards support a vital part of the Church’s mission, and can make a real difference to the wellbeing of those in communities across the country. Christians believe that we are called to care as much for the mind and body as we are our spiritual health, and neglect of the mind and body can harm spiritual health.”
David Shreeve, director of The Conservation Foundation and Environmental Advisor to the Church of England is a strong supporter of how awards can drive action. He said: “The question we would like every church community to ask itself is: ‘Is there a piece of spare land we could use creatively?’ It doesn’t need to be a huge area, and even churches with only a small space will hopefully see how this can be turned into good use.”
The Revd Dr Gillian Straine, the Director of the Guild of Health and St Raphael, said: “We’re excited to begin to celebrate and support churches which are actively developing their gardens and wild spaces to benefit the health of their community, and in their mission to serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ”.
Paul Handley, Church Times editor, said: “These awards grew from the knowledge that many churches in the UK are responding imaginatively to the joint challenges of a worsening environment and our struggling health services. We want to find and celebrate these churches, and encourage others to follow their example.”
How to enter
The awards are open to all churches and other Christian organisations in the UK and the deadline for applications is 31 July 2018. The make-up of the judging panel, and details of the Green Health Live conference will be published shortly. For more information, and an entry form, visit: www.churchtimes.co.uk/green-health-awards
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
The Conservation Foundation has been inspiring, enabling and celebrating practical environmental action for over 35 years.
*The Gardening Against The Odds programme, which includes awards and the Unlocking Nature project at HMP Wandsworth, celebrates gardeners whose efforts in the face of physical and mental odds to create beauty and solace and improve their own wellbeing and that of others. They are dedicated to the much loved gardening writer Elspeth Thompson and named after her online diary, launched shortly before she died in March 2009.
Other current projects include The Great British Elm Search, Wessex Watermarks, We Love Yew and Tools Shed.