antonia January 30, 2023

Rushcliffe allotments and green social prescribing

Green social prescribing is a way of connecting people to nature-based activities and green groups, projects and schemes in their local community for support with health and wellbeing. Often this will be through a referral from a Link Worker based at a GP practice or another primary care professional.

A great example of green social prescribing is the Rushcliffe allotments, started by the Rushcliffe Social Prescribing team in 2021, which you might remember as we’ve covered its official launch in this newsletter here. In November, Laura Armitage, Greenspace Social Prescribing projects Officer, visited the allotments and has written a blog about her experience, which you can read below…

Wednesday 23 November 2023

This morning was incredibly rainy but by 12 noon the sky cleared and the sun came out and I was ready for my visit to the Ruddington Allotments…

I’d been given instructions to find house number 69 and to follow a short path down the side of it until I reach a green gate. As I waited at the gate, a lady joined me wearing short wellies, a bobble hat and a warm waterproof coat – she smiled at me and asked me if I was OK.

I introduced myself and she recognised who I was as she had been told that a visitor would be coming today. Laura a social prescribing link worker who helps to run the community allotment joined us next, she was friendly and welcoming, opening the gate and directing is up to the garden allotment as she explained that she had had a few cancellations due to the weather.

Picture of summer house and patio at the Ruddington allotments

To get into the allotment we passed under an archway and walked up a paved path which had raised beds on the left and a hedgerow on the right. They were more raised beds as we moved into the garden, with a summer house painted blue standing at one end, with an outdoor table and chairs.

The lovely lady I had met at the gate and Laura showed me around the plot explaining what they had done to get it to where it is in now. The garden looked really productive even in its autumn appearance with a large strawberry bed still flowering, a parsnip bed ready for harvesting and salad leaves ready for picking.

As the lady showed me round she told me how she’d started coming to the garden, explaining how it helped her to get out and that it gave routine and purpose to her week she said: “When I’m in the garden my problems disappear. Time goes by really quickly here.”

We had started weeding one of the raised beds happily chatting as we moved between here and the compost heap. Another member of Laura’s team joined us in the garden, he happily came in and got stuck in with us now around the parsnip patch. Putting on our gloves and beginning to wriggle up the parsnips, we soon realised they were larger than we thought and garden forks were pulled out of the summer house for our use. As we worked on the harvest, conversation flowed freely, a lot of it around the benefits of keeping active and how good it was to be out of the house and the office.

Laura mentioned that she had to take time out of her job to be at the allotment working with volunteers and how sometimes this could add extra pressure to her workload. But she went on to say that every time she ran a session at the garden she felt better after it: “I can go back with a clear head and be more productive.”

It also meant that she got time out in the community working with the people she was there to help. I felt that this was quite a major part of a link worker’s role and see the connection of the link worker with volunteers in the garden and members of the community as part of the job. I remarked on this to Laura, who replied: “It is good to be able to practise what we preach to people we work with.”

Eventually we stopped for tea, Laura had bought a flask of hot water and spare cups. We sat around the outdoor table in the sunshine discussing plans for the garden and things that we did in our day-to-day lives. The lady volunteer mentioned she had been reading a book but that it was quite hard going to retain the information. She and Laura went on to discuss things that might help and by the time the lady had finished describing her book she realised that she had retained more than she thought! She made a comment about finding it hard to stop sometimes and give herself the space to read and to just be. Laura turned this on its head asking: “If I say to you that I struggled to sit down and read because I feel guilty for not being active what would you say to me.”

The lady volunteer thought for a moment and explained how she needs the time to care for herself, saying how it could be a real pleasure curling up in a blanket with a book and hoping the book would be so good that the cup of tea made as you sat down had gone cold before you noticed. Laura listened closely and at the end talked about being compassionate to yourself when needed.

The talk turned to hobbies and activities, the changing seasons and eventually to getting up and washing and distributing the parsnips. As we got up, the volunteer mentioned issues with her mental health and well-being but said that now she had a plan. She said: “I know this day I do this, that day I do that, so I know I won’t just be sat around each day and I feel better.”

The harvest had filled three buckets so everyone was able to take some home – the rest were placed in buckets and taken to a central point in the allotments near a water tap where there was a rack for a local cafe to pick up from. Another grower from the allotments joined us in this central section amazed at the amount of parsnips and she messaged the local cafe to make sure they knew to drop by for a collection.

We all left the allotment together all still chatting and in good spirits the lady volunteer looking forward to the next session!