Grow Cardiff

Grow Well is an award-winning social prescribing project that champions the health and well-being of patients and local people in SW Cardiff experiencing mental and physical health difficulties and social isolation, through therapeutic community gardening sessions. Facilitated by Grow Cardiff’s staff trained in social therapeutic horticultural practice, Grow Well’s weekly sessions ran over a 3 month period, engaged patients at three community gardens spread equally across the South West Cardiff Cluster. The Cluster comprises ten GP practices in wards with some of the highest levels of deprivation, health inequalities and health outcomes in Wales (Welsh Index Multiple Deprivation). The project was co-produced in partnership with the Cluster Director, Cluster staff, community health agencies and vitally, patients, using an asset-based, patient-centred approach.

Through 33 sessions (11 weekly sessions at 3 sites) Grow Cardiff staff facilitated therapeutic community gardening sessions which supported patients referred to the project and local people who self-referred to:

  • Grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs in the three project sites (Dusty Forge Community Centre, Lansdowne surgery community garden, Riverside Health Centre community garden). Each week, participants shared seasonal produce on site, cooking healthy soups in each session and taking produce home.
  • Move more through gentle exercise in the gardens: every session included weeding, sweeping, raking, hoeing, building and moving wheel barrows of compost. Participants were encouraged to walk to and from the garden sites, so that the journey to the project itself built exercise into participants’ weekly attendance
  • Improve their emotional health and wellbeing through conversation, connection, mutual support, planning and reviewing the garden together, sharing a common purpose and achieving goals set as individuals and as a group. Staff ensured that there were plenty of breaks for tea, chat and sharing food, facilitating the session so that all members of the group were supported to connect and support one another. This was particularly important when participants were experiencing difficult situations in their personal lives and may have come to a garden feeling very distressed. In these circumstances, staff ensured that the focus of the session was very much the health and wellbeing of individuals attending and take time to listen, support and where appropriate offer further help, signposting or referrals to other agencies.

Outcome measures & Key performance indicators

Grow Cardiff developed a value-based approach to measuring outcomes through the bespoke monitoring tool developed in partnership with participants and the WSSPR. This approach also used standard measure of health and well-being e.g. SWEMWBS and UCLA-3 Loneliness scale.

Total no. of participants 40     (Riverside = 16, Dusty = 15, Lansdowne = 11)
Referral route Self-referral: 48%     Other referral 32%     GP referral 20%
No. of participants with high
participation in the project
80% engaged in 3 or more sessions
Age 25-44 yrs 50%     45-64 yrs 29%     65+ yrs 21%
Gender Male 43%     Female 50%     Non binary 7%
Ethnicity 86% White British     7% White Other Background    7% Other
Employment status 25% Carer     19% Retired     19% Not employed     19% Out of work due to disability/mental health     18% other
Disability 71% Have a disability     88% Have a health condition

40 people took part in Grow Well between the beginning of January and end of March 2023. Of these, 80% engaged regularly with the sessions (3 or more attendances). The groups’ ethnicities were largely White British, comprised a range of ages, (including over 20% who were 65 years or older) and mixed genders. 25% of participants were carers, 19% were retired, 40% were either registered unemployed or unable to work due to a disability or mental health condition. 71% self-reported that they had a disability and 88% reported an on-going health condition. 68% of participants reported that the sessions helped them to feel better, 32% said that they felt the same after sessions, 0% said they felt worse.

Feedback from session participants:

“I like working in a group or a team. I enjoy planting plants and flowers”

“I feel that (staff member) Grow Cardiff and the people here are my family. The people here are very caring and understanding. I like learning new skills with others, to do with gardening”

“Winter months are dark and nothing to do, so it got me out the house, meeting people”

Grow Well participants, March 2023

Case Study

R is a 39 year old lady who was referred to the Grow Well project by her GP due to social isolation and physical health issues and what she describes as a ‘traumatic experience’. She also reported significant anxiety & depression ahead of joining our group and commented that she takes strong medication and would rarely go out anywhere.

Straight away the Grow Well team discussed adaptations due to mobility and mainly used table top seed sowing and waist high raised planters as R was unable to work any lower than this without difficulty. The team made sure that R was happy with this and worked closely with her in the first couple of sessions, letting her tell us about how she was feeling, at which point she opened up a lot about her health conditions.

Within just a few short weeks, she commented that she was remembering things much more clearly being in the garden, e.g. what she had sown and planted which really built her confidence. R refuses gloves in the garden, wanting to connect with the soil and get her hands dirty at every opportunity. She was very excited about growing produce for the first time and taking it home to try cooking new things. She quickly started growing at home also as well as in the local sessions.

R has become a central positive figure amongst the group, making new people feel welcome and influencing others to join. She has instigated a group post the sessions where people go off socially to a cafe each week.

She has recently completed Lead Volunteer forms to help us run sessions and is very keen to showcase the project and its benefits to others. She attended an awards event with a staff member when Grow Well Riverside was presented with a Community Land Advisory Service award in March 2023. R is now engaged in multiple projects, busy raising money for a number of charities and has enrolled in University to study Psychology, she regularly says that she credits all of this to the garden and the confidence it has given her to become herself again. In her own words:

“The garden has made me feel life again, I feel like me again”,

“I’ve learnt new skills that I never knew I had”

“The garden is a safe place for me and others”

Chris Miller
Grow Well Project Officer, Riverside

Other developments

As well as the regular weekly sessions, funding for the project also enabled the following developments:

  • Purchase of a new Polytunnel for Lansdowne Surgery community garden to extend the growing season and variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs grown at the site as well as providing additional indoor working space
  • Purchase of a new volunteer shelter with green roof at Riverside Health Centre. Planning permission has been obtained from CVUHB and Cardiff Council and it is anticipated that the permanent shelter will be erected summer 2023
  • Purchase of timber for new raised beds in the Dusty Forge. Grow Cardiff have made an effective partnership with the Cardiff Probation service who are working with staff and volunteers to build and install a series of new raised beds in the garden, significantly improving and increasing the growing areas
  • Purchase of materials for development of new reflective garden space at Dusty Forge. Grow Cardiff has developed an excellent working relationship with ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely), co-producing a new site with ACE staff, volunteers and local community members to develop a new reflective garden. At the time of writing, through Grow Cardiff’s support, ACE has secured mentoring support with the Egin programme (Development Training Association Wales) to further develop the garden and apply for National Lottery funding through Egin for up to £15K
  • Installation of outdoor electric power supply at Lansdowne Surgery. This has provided an outdoor power source for kettles, charging tools, etc as well as outdoor heaters to keep participants warm over the winter months

What next? Sustainable outcomes

As the funding for this project has come to an end, the community garden spaces continue to be available as well-being spaces for patients, staff from the practices/ACE and local members of the community throughout the week. ACE will use the garden at the Dusty Forge through the week for community coffee mornings with older members of the community and Grief Space, which supports bereaved community members. The heated Lansdowne shelter is available for staff to use during the week and the Riverside shelter will provide a permanent 24/7 shelter space for the local community to enjoy.

The project has actively promoted regeneration of community spaces through:

  • development of a new reflective garden site adjacent to the Dusty Forge community garden, to support patients, volunteers and staff affected by bereavement through the pandemic
  • a new community garden shelter at Riverside Health Centre which will be available for members of the public to use throughout the week

Over the course of the project Grow Cardiff has secured a further 2 years’ funding to develop Grow Well and an agreement is in place to work with the Wales School of Social Prescribing (WSSPR) to monitor and evaluate the project. Plans are in place to significantly develop the three Grow Well sites further from 2023 – 2025. Grow Cardiff is committed to increasing referrals to the Grow Well gardens, has secured funding to run weekly sessions at the three sites for at least the next 2.5 years and is committed to deepening the impact that the project has on local people’s health and well-being, particularly those struggling with their mental and physical health, loneliness and isolation.

“I came here to ask for help because I needed it, I was crying and I just need help with my
stress. Since I’ve come here, it’s changed my life”

Grow Well participants, March 2023