Just Grow, a food growing programme, promotes positive health outcomes. The healthy eating and exercise elements of being involved benefit physical health, and we also know that the therapeutic value of gardening can improve mental health outcomes too. The scheme reduces social isolation, and promotes community cohesion and ownership of previously uncared-for green spaces.
The rise of food banks in recent years has demonstrated that people are struggling to buy cheap, healthy, nutritious food. Evidence suggests that Nottingham has poor physical and mental health outcomes.
The target groups for the project are Nottingham City Homes’ (NCH) tenants living in areas of high deprivation. Working with local primary schools we are addressing poor attitudes to healthy eating, particularly among young children. The schemes also contribute to improved mental health and better community cohesion. This is achieved through gardening and cross-generational working, bringing together younger and older people behind a common cause. We are taking previously unused spaces and repurposing them as green spaces managed by and for the community.
The umbrella Just Grow initiative includes five food-share gardens in primary schools, as well as the development of community gardens.
By working with tenant groups and schools, we are promoting healthy eating and developing a programme of clearing, planting, growing and distributing fresh food to the community. Our Tenant Training Academy is promoting cooking skills, training tenants to use the food that is grown. We are currently looking at businesses and other social enterprises with whom we can work to sell and/or distribute this food. This includes plans to develop a Nottingham Fresh Food Bank – a city-wide distribution network of fresh food for the community.
It is too early to assess immediate impact. Future impact monitoring is aligned to support our partner health aims and objectives:
- supporting ‘Wellness in Mind’ (Nottingham’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-17)
- reducing the proportion of people with poor mental health by 10% by 2020
- reducing the rate of hospital admissions for mental health conditions (age 0-17)
- increasing the proportion of people achieving ‘five a day’ and percentage of physically active/inactive adults
NCH indicators being monitored include:
- neighbourhood satisfaction surveys
- surveys with TRA members and the public to monitor the impact on them and their neighbourhood
- adapting existing Neighbourhood Assessments to evaluate impact
- capturing the number of young people engaging in Young Inspector programmes in the project areas – to evidence understanding of the environmental impact of the schemes.
We are working with the community (primary schools and Tenant and Resident Associations (TRAs)) to deliver tailored, locally-based solutions. We work in partnership with Greenscene Education, who provide horticultural and environmental education services to primary schools, Nourish Associates and Nottingham Trent University. By doing so, we are able to tap in to expertise and contacts throughout the city to achieve, among other things, Food for Life objectives and consistency in evaluation the success of the programme.
As a housing association we have provided land ourselves, and have used our relationship with Nottingham City Council to secure the release of other land for community gardens.
NCH, through its tenant engagement structures provided expertise in helping Tenant and Resident Associations bid for the following funds:
- ‘Pocket park’ funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government
- Lottery funding
- Nottingham City Council environmental funds.
To date NCH has provided £25,000 for four Just Grow projects over two years. This has been used to engage with specialist support providers, pay for soil testing and the provision of materials (planters, sleepers, tools and equipment, top soil, plants and seeds).
Other resources we have provided include project management support and ‘boots on the ground’ - an army of caretakers and other housing staff to help clear, dig and build the gardens.
Our contribution to improving health
The Just Grow scheme has deliberately targeted areas of deprivation, with all of their associated physical and mental health problems. These are areas predominantly made up of NCH tenants where we have strong community engagement and influence. We understand the specific needs of the community for improved health outcomes, and are facilitating the delivery of community-led solutions.
Just Grow is aligned to healthy outcomes in the following ways:
- improving mental health through the therapeutic value of gardening and the benefits of interacting socially in a natural environment
- improving social skills through team working, developing friendships and improving self-esteem
- increasing physical activity
- developing a sustainable approach to changing eating habits by: providing communities with local, fresh produce; engaging with schools, educating children in healthy eating habits and promoting Food for Life outcomes; and maximising Tenant Academy resources to organise locally based cookery training course using local produce.