The increasing urbanisation has made it harder to connect with nature. Green spaces are also less frequented by people from lower socioeconomic groups and minorities, as well as those over 65 years old and with disabilities. It could be because of inaccessible facilities or safety concerns.
New South Wales has been running a gardening program since 1999 for disadvantaged groups to address the inequality in access to green space. The program, Community Greening has reached over 100,000 participants. It also established 627 youth and community-led gardens throughout the state.
Read more: The science is in: gardening is good for you
Our independent evaluation explored the program’s impact on new participants and communities in social housing by tracking six new garden sites in 2017. Around 85% of participants told us the program had a positive effect on their health, and 91% said it benefited their community. And 73% said they were exercising more and 61% were eating better. One participant said engaging in the program even helped them quit smoking.
These insights have improved our understanding of the benefits of community gardening on mental and physical health for Australians who live in social housing communities.
This study was conducted to provide an overview of the findings.
Concerns about the health and wellbeing of populations have been raised by trends towards urbanisation, and the loss of green spaces. This has led to an increasing body of studies on the impact community gardens have on both children and adults.
The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney supports the community greening in partnership with Housing New South Wales. Botanic gardens have gathered anecdotal evidence that gardening can improve wellbeing, cohesion, and a feeling of belonging. It also reduces stress.
Community Greening offers gardens to people living in social housing.
Community Greening is based on the understanding that:
Improve physical and mental health
Reduce anti-social behavior
Build community cohesion
Take advantage of economic disadvantage
Promote knowledge of native foods
Conserve the environment
Skills training is essential to future employment.
Share your expert knowledge about the garden.
We investigated whether these outcomes changed throughout the program. Over seven months, we collected data through questionnaires (both before and after the program). We conducted open-ended questions with the staff at the community sites and focus groups with participants.
Read more: Social housing protects against homelessness – but other benefits are less clear.
Of the 23 people who completed both questionnaires before and afterward, 14 were female, and nine were male. They had an average age of 59, ranging from 29-83. Fifteen participants were born in Australia, while the rest came from Fiji, Iran, Poland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Chile, Afghanistan, and Mauritius. One participant identified as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and five people (22%) reported English was not their first language.
In the beginning, 27% of participants said they had never cultivated a garden before participating in the program. Several of these people reported an increase in attendance at the post-test. Over 40% of the participants gardened at least once a week, and 22% did so every day.
We found that participants generally felt pride in their community, a sense of agency, and a sense of accomplishment. The gardening program encouraged change and community development. Others were excited to discover a new hobby.
Participants in the Community Greening program found that gardening has many benefits. Research infographic/Screenshot: The Author provided
Gardening is also a great way to meet your neighbors. In the past, residents of some social housing communities would often stay in their apartments without ever interacting with others.
Participants reported that their health and well-being had improved significantly. One participant said:
Since I became more involved in the garden, it has helped me not to worry as much about my health and actually improved my eating habits. It’s positively changed my life. It has changed my life positively.
Many people, especially those with depression and anxiety, found gardening to be calming and cathartic. Some people spoke about the feeling of accomplishment and having something to do every day.
Another participant said:
It’s not just physical exercise that I get from going outside, but also a sense of satisfaction in seeing my hard work manifest in the form of healthy plants. You can see the fruits of your labor, whether it is a vegetable or a conifer.
Other improvements in social health include a genuine excitement for working as a team with increased cooperation between staff and tenants. Housing managers and social workers help tenants to build trust, cohesion, social collaboration, and healthy relationships.