Hostel gardening project grows and grows

Forging positive social networks is crucial for homeless people as they prepare to live independently.

Studies on the effects of gardening on people’s welfare have shown significant reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social skills, and opportunities for vocational development. Increasing people’s exposure to green spaces has been linked to long-term reductions in overall health problems and better self-rated mental health.

Over the past year, residents from two homelessness schemes in Cambridge have taken part in a garden project, with a core group of four or five attending most sessions. Other residents come out to watch or join the group for tea.

The group sowed, grew, and harvested a variety of vegetables which have been shared out and enjoyed by the members. They also made up small veggie stew starter packs for other residents of the hostels. Residents are encouraged to improve their health with cookery sessions that teach them to produce low-cost, tasty, and healthy meals.

The group has made some big alterations to the site, including developing a social space around a fire pit with a story-telling chair; building a living-willow dome in the memorial garden; and doing more sensory planting in the wildlife and memorial garden areas. A pond in the wildlife garden is finished and the group has started to landscape the area around it to encourage bio-diversity.

The project is constantly developing, with participants coming up with new and creative ideas. Not only are they gaining some very useful skills and knowledge, but they are also gaining confidence and a sense of achievement, making friends, broadening their horizons, learning how to work as a team, and engaging more with the community.

Every team member of a group project is important to the whole community. They each have their own story to tell and skills to bring to the team.

Ed has been working on the garden project since he moved into hostel last summer.

He says: “I enjoy landscaping and building – it’s quiet here – it’s the only place that’s peaceful.”

Ed has a storied history of employment and a good story to tell from every role, whether it is lorry driving, farm work, delivering coffins, or factory line working. So, he has a wide range of skills which he puts into practice at the project, using scrap wood and pallets to build anything they need.

Here things he has made include an epic bird palace, a new bench and archway, compost bays, fencing and edging for beds, compost bays, and a ramp into wildlife pond area. Ed is hoping to get his own place with his sons and get back into landscaping work.