Articles, Blog

Green Health: Therapeutic gardening in church spaces

September 10, 2019

Hello I’m Father James, I’m the parish
priest here at St Paul’s Camden Square which is an inner-city parish church in
London. We were delighted and surprised to win the first ever Green Health
Awards for therapeutic gardening and I’d like to show you the garden and let you
meet some of the gardening team. When I first became the vicar of this church this
garden was locked over here with a padlock and the garden was completely
derelict and full of weeds and brambles and I wanted to do something with the
garden but not being a gardener myself was unsure of how to begin and I have a
garden in my vicarage and I was recommended a gardener to call and
the gardener was Ben who is standing here and we thought the best way to introduce
the congregation and Father James to the work we do is to invite them over to one
of our established projects and show you round I think a really important thing
it’s also being really actively hospitable – welcoming to individuals and
groups and creating a venue essentially so that maybe when we’re not here other
people can come along and use it and enjoy it and just enjoy this kind of really tranquil exclusive space. The client group that
have been coming here are really quite an admirable and special group of people
because they have severe and enduring mental health problems they have
diagnoses of psychosis schizophrenia and they have severe and enduring treatment resistant symptoms they struggle with motivation and lack of interest in
things they sometimes have memory and concentration problems they are often
quite socially isolated because they’re spending long periods of time in
hospital yeah so every week a small group of people have come to the garden
they’ve been escorted by staff some of them are under Section and then Ben and
Catherine have been both able to offer them a really wide range of activities
so these are people who find it difficult to get up in the morning and
get out sometimes so some of them have just really liked to be here and to be
surrounded by nature they’ve really appreciated that. What difference has is made to you, coming to do some gardening? I come every week and it’s great to socialise with people, and getting out the house. I like maintaining an eco-garden and I like planting seeds, planting bulbs and then they become flowers and vegetables and in February
we had a bird-watching event here which was lovely I never knew there were so
many different kinds. Thank You Kate that’s wonderful thank you very much for your contribution. What I’m interested in from your
perspective is how that works why does that happen why is it a garden particularly that makes those changes in people’s lives? Well I think what you’ve described that lightening of mood is something that’s very much what
people describe as being the benefits of gardening whether that’s individually as
a gardener or as a group of gardens in a community setting and that sense of
being outside in nature has a really beneficial effect whatever the activity
is that you’re doing so if you’re exercising outside it’s been shown to
improve your mood something about being in the green space being near to nature
is positive psychologically for everybody so for people who have other
issues, mental health concerns, health problems of other kinds it can be doubly
beneficial in that respect so that it’s a kind of overall effective of nearby
nature which is just positive. Part of that is affected by reducing cortisol
levels which are stress hormones so lowering those levels means your mood
rises so there’s a kind of physiological effect giving a psychological benefit. And it’s really wonderful that we can use our church green space to make such an impact on so many lives in the local community and we’re really proud of that here at St Paul’s Camden Square. Giles, you’re the vicar of this extraordinary church here, right next to Waterloo station and all around
it is an absolutely fantastic garden which has helped a huge number of people. Tell us a little about how that came about. Over the last twenty years
it’s been gardened mainly by people with mental health issues and support needs. Previously by St Mungo’s a project called Putting Down Roots which particularly
works with ex-alcoholics and ex-homeless people. And we now manage it ourselves
and we have a fantastic gardener called Viv who happens to have a training in
horticultural therapy and she works with a number of regular people who come
most weeks most of whom have support needs they could come from Roots and
Shoots which is a project just down the road or they’ve come to us by direct referral. I hope you found that brief story as inspiring as I have and I hope too it may have encouraged you if you’re watching this little video to think
about how some of the space around your church could be used in a rather similar
way. Perhaps not quite as spectacularly as this has been but nonetheless
bringing together people with a whole variety of needs, loneliness, mental
health issues, and encouraging them to get involved with working on the ground,
on the land and working together. Some of the outcomes the health outcomes of this
kind of work are proven now and this is something the church not only should be
doing but can do and we’re trying to encourage as many people around the
country as possible to do it.

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