What difference does community gardening make?

Dave Cox is living testament to the benefits of community gardening. ‘Working here, close to nature, amongst caring people, in a peaceful environment, is good for both my mental and physical health,’ he says.

We know that there is a link between improved mental health and gardening, but for Dave this isn’t theoretical, it’s real. 

He joined the community gardening team at St James’ Church in Finchampstead, near Reading, seven years ago. 

‘I’ve suffered from mental health problems,’ he says, ‘and working here has been a distraction. It’s really helped me.’

St James’ Church is at the heart of the village of Finchampstead and it has been bequeathed quite a bit of land, all of which is in a conservation area. 

So, the church has worked with what it’s got – 10 acres in all, including two acres of woodland. It has maintained old, large trees, cleared woodland of invasive plants, used wood from fallen trees to make benches and runs a popular gardening club twice a week. People from all walks of life join together, garden, eat cake and then, head to the pub. 

Creating a habitat for wildlife has also been important to the church which scooped the Church Times Green Church Award in 2017.

Dave enjoys watching ground-dwelling bees and a wide variety of birds in the extensive woodland. Both people and wildlife have flourished as the community garden has taken shape. 

Rector, Canon Julie Ramsbottom, has seen the difference that the gardens have made. 

‘It is important that we help nature to flourish,’ she says. ‘If nature flourishes, then people flourish too, even if they don’t realise it.’

One of those who’s flourished through joining the gardening team at St James’ is Joy Scovell. Her husband, Lance, died suddenly and unexpectedly whilst on a work trip six years ago. The shock of the grief was so ‘awful’ Joy says, that she also ended up in hospital with Broken Heart Syndrome. 

The road to recovery began gardening at St James’. ‘I hardly came to church, but when I saw they needed help in the garden I knew that was where I needed to be,’ she says, ‘and I have never looked back. 

‘I feel happy and safe here. It’s helped me grow spiritually. It’s been life-changing for me. I feel part of this lovely, living community. Lance would laugh at me now because I’m so involved. But this is the only place I really want to be.’

But it’s not just individuals whose lives have been changed. The garden is now at the heart of many community and church activities. On warm, summer days, meetings are held outdoors; children come to garden with their families and the lines between church, garden and community have become blurred. 

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