A recent report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) revealed that five times as many Higher Education (HE) students in the UK disclose a mental health condition than was the case ten years ago. In response to the growing pressures and stress students are under the University of Hertfordshire launched a Community Garden twelve week course on 18 October 2017. During the course students spent a few hours a week tending to the green areas at the University’s College Lane campus and Bayfordbury Observatory in order to ‘Get Outside and Get Active’, as a method of improving students’ physical and mental wellbeing.
Over the 12 week course there were 16 participants, who deturfed and dug over raised beds that were already on the College Lane Campus, composted these and then planted onions and garlic. Participants also completed snowberry clearance around the lake at Bayfordbury and cleared the Sailors Grove pond and coppiced hazel at Hooks grove at the site as well.
The project has been very successful at helping University of Hertfordshire’s students’ mental wellbeing. Research into the effect gardening has on mental health has shown that, ‘the act of gardening can specifically improve people’s moods’. The physical aspect of gardening also contributes towards participants recommended minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week, and research has shown physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lisa Evans, who studies Visual Effects for Film and Television said:
‘The night before I started the course I was on the phone to my mum, really upset about how stressed I was... I’d been having quite a bad time the past week and since I’ve started [the gardening project] my mood in general throughout the week has improved vastly and I can’t really think of anything that has changed apart from on Wednesday afternoon I spend a couple of hours gardening with some really lovely people.'
She discusses how the project helped her mental wellbeing in a short film produced by community charity Groundwork East.
Emma Lewis, Campus Community Officer, who is shown at the start of the film ‘Gardening for your mental health’ and who helped facilitate the project at the University of Hertfordshire said: ‘At the University of Hertfordshire we are keen to promote a sense of community and belonging. Our Community Garden project is fantastic as it is an opportunity for students to use their time to get outside, destress, meet new people and just spend time doing something they enjoy with the opportunity to learn new skills as well.’
Funding has been approved for a new 26 week project for both University staff and students, which is due to be launched later this year.
To find out more visit the Groundwork East website.
Images are stills from the short film ‘Gardening for your mental health’ produced by Groundwork East.