How important are community gardens?

Community gardening is a growing movement in Britain that can really invigorate local communities. A community garden is run by a group of people from the local area who work together to create a beautiful, open green space, often with a focus on fresh produce.

Evidence from the USA and Australia, where community gardens have a long history, shows that they can help create a more cohesive community, reduce crime, help young people develop life skills and even prevent childhood obesity through the availability of fresh produce. Even some British allotment groups are embracing the idea, moving away from an individual focus on small plots to create a more open space that is managed by the community. No wonder that they are becoming more and more popular in Britain.

Investing and participating in community gardens

With Britain’s roads getting busier every year, people retreat inside their homes and seldom get the chance to meet their neighbours. Developing a community identity is a big challenge – and community gardens are a great way of addressing this.

Abbey Gardens in east London was set up in 2006 on the neglected remains of a 12th-century abbey. They have built 30 raised beds so far to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers and there are three sessions each week for people to tend the plants. The garden brings together people of all ages, cultures and social backgrounds and everyone gets to take a part of the harvest.

Other projects have a bigger emphasis on variety. Permablitz London goes to a different community garden each week to help out with a blitz of activities, from planting perennials in a mature garden to creating a new community garden for local people to develop and grow into a new green space.

It’s not just about London – the Norwich Farmshare project has a small farmstead just outside the city which uses organic farming methods to grow fresh vegetables and fruit which are delivered to members every week. Some evidence indicates that community garden projects can actually be more efficient than modern intensive farming.

The Brighton Permaculture Trust operates in a similar way, helping to teach people about different techniques for growing food as well as creating orchards, and even building ecologically sound structures.

Helping stop crime with community gardens

Some research shows that getting people out into community gardens can help deter criminals by simply having people around to witness what is going on. Just having a nice, attractive garden to walk around can be enough – the Calthorpe Project in Kings Cross encourages people to visit and enjoy the garden even if they don’t take part in maintaining or building it.

Getting involved in a community garden can be an excellent way for young people to develop their life skills. By helping out at a community garden they can learn where food comes from, discover that maths has a practical application particularly in business, and develop their understanding of the environment and the importance of community.

Thrive is a great example of how gardening can help people in a local community who are disadvantaged. Thrive helps people with disabilities or poor health and they have projects in London, Birmingham, Gateshead and Reading.

Benefits of growing a community garden

Every neighbourhood should have a community garden. They aren’t just nice places to walk past – they can have significant positive benefits for every community, in some quite unexpected ways. The experience of projects around the country shows us that even tiny patches of land can be transformed into lovely spaces that bring people out of their houses.

To see more inspiring projects, take a look at our community garden showcase