Community Gardening: Sow What?

A community programme exploring how men's mental health can be supported through gardening in groups

finger tips touch as people rub hands together to sow seeds in a tray

This blog was written by Amy Campbell, a second year BA Archaeology and Museum Studies student, who has been volunteering with the Sow What? sessions. As well as supporting the group with practical tasks, Amy was able to record participants’ responses to the activities undertaken and the impact of the sessions on their wellbeing and mental health.

Sow What? has been a community programme that has taken place at The MERL in partnership with 135 Launchpad Reading to explore how men’s mental health can be supported through gardening and working in groups to accomplish tasks.

Throughout the Sow What? sessions, the same key ideas keep emerging: reconnection, physical activity and purpose. These are all things that men who struggle with poor mental health sometimes find hard to access. However, during their time in the garden, the attendees don’t seem to stop smiling and chatting with each other. When in the garden, they collaborate on tasks, are physically active and are constantly learning new skills. This communal work also facilitates important conversations and connections made in a safe and casual manner over shared goals and experiences. Later, during tea break, the members get a chance to break down their thoughts on the day and anything they are feeling.

Sessions have helped me learn the things to do if I felt like I wanted to feel better

(Participant feedback)

The Sow What? sessions all targeted the NHS 5 Ways to Wellbeing through getting men into the garden and back outside. When asked, the members said that activities like prepping and planting the herb beds are not just fun but also satisfying and relaxing. One member said his favourite part of this activity was not only being able to connect to the people around him but also being reminded of the joys of being outside that he had forgotten, (such as the worms he had been saving from the tools during the session). Furthermore, being able to connect to a wide range of people such as the other volunteers and people at the Museum was an important aspect for the participants.

photograph of pots containing compost and cuttings standing in a green tray. Hands in the background holding secateurs
5 Ways to wellbeing: Learn. Here participants are learning how to take cuttings

Recurring comments about the struggles to connect with others in a digital world and the benefits of connecting to the outdoors were also echoed throughout the group. Being able to focus on tasks and watch progress also gave members “purpose” to their day. One member pointed out that the tasks they were given made him feel like it was a wellbeing activity that didn’t mean he was being spoken down to as he was working. The simplicity of working on a project with people who have been through similar things made connection easier and more comfortable.

3 people use spades to level compost in a raised bed
5 Ways to Wellbeing: Get active. Participants putting physical effort into levelling a raised bed.

Overall, the programme has had a wide array of benefits for men’s wellbeing but at its core it is a fun and enjoyable time for all involved, always enhanced by the cup of tea at the end!

Sow What? has been made possible thanks to the support of the Arts Council England (ACE) as part of our role as a National Portfolio Organisation: Museums Partnership Reading, a partnership of The MERL and Reading Museum.

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