Growing popularity: Allotments on the rise as benefits to mental health bloom during pandemic

Following a year in lockdown, with the focus on keeping our hands clean, getting your hands dirty may be the key to boosting your mental wellbeing as we return to normal.

Plot holder Mike Wooley
Plot holder Mike Wooley

During the last year, many of us have come to rely on our gardens and local green spaces more than ever.

After periods of social restrictions, people across the country have rediscovered the importance of connecting with nature for our mental and physical wellbeing.

A new report has suggested gardening is one of the most effective a therapies for depression and mental health. Demand for gardening equipment has soared in the last year as people turn to the outdoors during periods of lockdown.

Goscote Greenacres, in Goscote, Walsall, has become a safe haven for the community in the past 12 months.

Site manager Paul Mason

The site has 55 plots, poly tunnels, an onsite farm shop selling local produce, putting green, woodland meadow and canalside walk.

The site remained open for plot holders throughout the whole of lockdown, as gardening was classed as physical daily exercise.

Speaking about the benefit that the allotment has had on the local community, Paul Mason, community garden manager at Goscote Greenacres, says: "We are quite a unique place.

"The plots are used by local residents, mental health charities and adults with learning disabilities.

"One of our main aims is to break down prejudice people have of those with physical and mental disabilities and get them all working together.

"The garden is a natural environment, people get to spend time outside in nature, socialise with others and take home freshly grown produce, there are massive benefits to both mental and physical health."

Site supervisor Pete Weston

One misconception of allotments is that they are mainly used by the older generation, but Paul states that this is not the case.

"We have people of all ages come here. From young families to retired people in their 70s," Paul adds.

"One older couple who have plot come here to walk their dog because they feel so much safer here than in a park.

"A number of other plot holders have been through a lot of trauma in their lives, and for them to come here and be out in nature is just like an oasis of calm for them that is just over a mile outside of Walsall town centre."

Goscote Greenacres first opened in 2012.

Plot holder Amy Tolley

Mother-of-five, Amy Tolley, aged 36, who lives locally to the community garden, has had her plot for almost seven years.

She was inspired by her grandfather and used to visit his allotment plot with him as a child where her love for gardening began. She is now inspiring the next generation of plot holders.

"My kids absolutely love coming along with me and exploring the nature area, although they don't like weeding," Amy says.

"As soon as the vegetables are ready they can't wait to eat them, as soon as they are out of the ground then they're in their mouths.

"For me, the allotment is therapeutic.

"I have been through a lot this past year and being able to come to my allotment plot has really helped me.

"When I am here it is like all my worries and troubles are gone, I get some space for myself to clear my head and get away from everyone and everything for a little while."

Plot holder Mike Wooley

Another of Goscote Greenacres's veteran growers is Mike Wooley, aged 75, who lives in Walsall.

He has been tending his plot for seven years and is at the heart of the allotment's community.

Mike comments: "I never had much room at home to grow anything, so I was able to do a lot more when I got my plot.

"Coming here helps to get me out of the house and away from sitting in front of the television all day. Being here and out in the fresh air really does help my mental health and stress levels."

"There's also the social side, you get to see a lot of different people and new faces.

"You also learn new things from other people that you may not have known before, you all work together as a team."

One of the most rewarding parts of running the community garden is that it helps people escape the stress of everyday life, Paul says, and following the Covid-19 pandemic more and more people are turning to allotments to boost their own mental wellbeing.

"At the beginning of the year, the waiting list had 11 people on it - this is the most we have ever had, we have even put on extra plots," Paul says.

"There is such a demand for plots now, but those who have gardens can easily grow at home even with little space. For example, short rotation salad crops can be grown in small tubs.

"For those who are waiting for a plot of their own, this is an easy way to start growing."

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