The National Garden Scheme does more than open exceptional gardens to raise millions for nursing and health-related charities; it also champions the health benefits of gardens and funds garden and health-related projects that are supporting thousands of vulnerable people across the country.
“Championing the health benefits of gardens has been at the heart of our ethos since 1927,” explains National Garden Scheme CEO, George Plumptre who formally launches the 2019 Gardens and Health campaign A Path to Health on May 11th.
“From the beneficiaries receiving funding from us – such as the eleven Horatio’s Gardens at NHS Spinal Injury Centres across the country and the new Outdoor Learning Centre at Treloar’s School and College for severely disabled children and young people – to the garden owners who have found solace in the creation and sharing of their gardens, and the garden visitors who derive such pleasure from being in beautiful gardens, there can be little doubt that gardens and gardening create an important path to improved health and wellbeing.”
Gardening is now recognised as one of the important elements of social prescribing; an important component of the NHS comprehensive model of personalised care that aims to link an individual with an activity to improve their health and mental wellbeing. According to NHS England, 2.5 million people will benefit from social prescribing by 2024.
“Gardening ticks many boxes,” says Professor Sam Everington who leads the pioneering Bromley by Bow social prescribing movement . “Whether it’s a houseplant, a window box, an allotment or a back garden, gardening is accessible to all of us. It provides purpose, hope, routine and rewarding results. In a community context, like an allotment or therapy garden, it also generates conversation and an element of healthy competition. It can also reduce isolation and create a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose.”
Examples of social prescribing in action can be found at The Growth Project in Rochdale and The Therapy Garden in Surrey, both of which open their exceptional green spaces for the National Garden Scheme.
A volunteer at The Growth Project said: “I need to get out more and The Growth Project helps me. It helps me socialise with the other people that come here. If I didn’t come here I would go completely mad, I’d have nothing to look forward to and I would have nobody to talk to.”
The results speak for themselves. For many of the volunteers their mental and physical health has improved, and a number have returned to mainstream housing and regular employment.
At The Therapy Garden people living with dementia work alongside young adults with complex learning needs and children excluded from main stream education. All find purpose from being part of the project. As Penny says: “It makes me feel beneficial; satisfied more than happy, and useful.”
While for those excluded from mainstream education, the City and Guilds courses available are helping to set young people on a positive career path.
There seems to be little doubt that social prescribing works. An evidence summary published by the University of Westminster suggests that where a person has support through social prescribing their GP consultations reduce by an average of 28% and A&E attendances by 24% . Now recognized as an integral and important part of primary care, by April 2021 NHS England plans to fund one link worker for every primary care network in the country.
“These link workers will be central to the success of the scheme,” adds Professor Everington. “Emotionally intelligent, motivational coaches, they will help guide a person to an activity or service they may not be aware of. It’s not easy to walk through a garden gate or into a new place for the first time so being introduced by a link worker is vital. Being invited in is an important part of the process.”
“Link workers are a great idea,” says Natalie Claveria at The Therapy Garden. “By working as an introducer to services like ours they will really help potential clients and volunteers take that first step. We’ve seen a number of people make it as far as the gate and then walk away.”
Once introduced however, the results, as illustrated by The Growth Project and The Therapy Garden and hundreds of similar projects around the country, can be life changing (see our cases studies below).
Professor Everington adds: “Inactivity and isolation are major causes of ill-health, not only can they reduce life expectancy by about ten years, but they also contribute to the growing pressure on GP and hospital services. Getting people motivated, setting them on a path to new activities and opportunities are vital for the improved health and wellbeing of thousands of people. Social prescribing is here to stay.”
“The National Garden Scheme is fully supportive of social prescribing, especially in relation to introducing people to gardens and green spaces and the health benefits that brings,” says CEO George Plumptre.
Backing up this commitment, the National Garden Scheme is sponsoring an award at the first Social Prescribing Awards  – a new initiative from the Social Prescribing Network, the College of Medicine and the University of Westminster. The winners will be celebrated during the International Social Prescribing Network Conference being held at the University of Westminster on July 11th and 12th 2019.