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Churches challenged to dig for health

The Green Health Awards encourage churches to use their green space to promote wellbeing in the community
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Abbey of Senanque

A new award scheme is encouraging churches to use their green spaces to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of people in their communities.

The goal of the Green Health Awards is to promote links between Nature and human health, and encourage and reward efforts by churches of all denominations and other Christian organisations to use gardens and churchyards creatively for wellbeing.

‘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.’

Church Times editor

The 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 — build on the success of The Conservation Foundation’s Gardening Against The Odds programme and last year’s Church Times Green Church Awards.

The Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and Lead Bishop on Healthcare, said, ‘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.’

Green Health Live

Projects must promote mental and/or physical wellbeing, and take place on grounds that belong to a Christian church or organisation anywhere in the UK. The deadline for applications is 31 July 2018; click here for the entry form.

Winners will receive their awards during a ceremony at Lambeth Palace on 02 October, as part of the Green Health Live conference. 10 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.

‘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.”

Vicar, St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham

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 range 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. The result was 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.

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.

Click here for more about the Conservation Foundation’s project to create green space in UK prisons.

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