True Value

Research carried out by Social Farms & Gardens to assess and document the impact and value of community farms and gardens to individuals and communities, focussing on opportunities for engagement, volunteering, training, capacity building and empowerment.

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Health & Wellbeing Case Studies

Over the last few years there has been a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of community growing for physical and mental wellbeing. The Growing Well project was set up in 2014 by Social Farms & Gardens (previously FCFCG) with funding from the John Ellerman Foundation. The project’s aims were to:

  • Provide support, record and share good practice in maximising the wellbeing benefits of community growing
  • Help other groups who want to apply this practice to their work.

As part of the Growing Well project, SF&G collated a selection of this evidence of the wellbeing benefits of community growing – research, statistics and articles – that may be useful when applying for funding or in promoting the work of community gardens:

We have also published a set of topic-based case studies demonstrating the benefits of community growing:

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Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better

Research suggests that awe can make you happier, healthier, more humble, and more connected to the people around you.

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Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice

The National Gardens Scheme commissioned The King’s Fund to write an independent report on the benefits of gardens and gardening on health.

The report has three aims:

  • to collate and summarise the evidence on the impact of gardens on wellbeing across the life-course, from childhood through family life and into older age
  • to demonstrate the important place gardening interventions have in the wider health and care system with a focus on four specific areas: social prescribing; community gardens; dementia care; end-of-life care
  • to make the case for the further integration of gardens and health into mainstream health policy and practice.

The report includes a ‘menu’ of recommendations that aims to encourage the NHS, government departments, national bodies, local government, health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups to make more of the diverse health benefits of gardening in support of their priorities.

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Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing

Spending time in natural environments can benefit health and well-being, but exposure-response relationships are under-researched. We examined associations between recreational nature contact in the last seven days and self-reported health and well-being.

Positive associations peaked between 200–300 mins per week with no further gain. The pattern was consistent across key groups including older adults and those with long-term health issues. It did not matter how 120 mins of contact a week was achieved (e.g. one long vs. several shorter visits/week). Prospective longitudinal and intervention studies are a critical next step in developing possible weekly nature exposure guidelines comparable to those for physical activity.

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Nature and mental health

Explains the mental health benefits of nature and gives tips and ideas to try. Also provides information on formal ecotherapy programmes, and where to find out more.

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Nature for wellbeing

Evidence shows that a thriving, wildlife-rich environment benefits both physical and mental health. People with nature on their doorstep are more active, mentally resilient and have better all-round health.

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How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?

Research reveals that environments can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.

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Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective

A growing body of empirical evidence is revealing the value of nature experience for mental health. With rapid urbanization and declines in human contact with nature globally, crucial decisions must be made about how to preserve and enhance opportunities for nature experience. Here, we first provide points of consensus across the natural, social, and health sciences on the impacts of nature experience on cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and other dimensions of mental health. We then show how ecosystem service assessments can be expanded to include mental health, and provide a heuristic, conceptual model for doing so.

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Connectedness With Nearby Nature and Well-Being

Trees are an integral and salient feature of the natural environment with multiple benefits for environmental and human health. Little is understood, however, about how connectedness with trees or other features of nature (e.g., wildlife) are associated with human health perceptions and well-being. Similarly, research on links between neighborhood trees and nature connectedness is lacking…….

…People living near trees reported better mental health perceptions (GHQ-12) and a greater sense of connectedness to the natural world around them. Connectedness with trees, wildlife, and nature was associated with better psychological well-being and less mental distress. This sense of connection was still related to better mental health—more positive moods and feelings of vitality—when controlling for age, income, and neighborhood connectedness. Trees are an integral part of communities and are a cost-effective way of enhancing health as well as mitigating the effects of climate change. Cultivating connectedness with specific elements of the natural environment may help to promote greater environmental concern and behavior, while providing a positively-framed motivation for such action.

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Editorial: One Health: The Well-being Impacts of Human-Nature Relationships

This special edition responds to two interrelated issues confronting humanity today: the health and well-being of populations and the state of the natural environment. Mental Health disorders are on the rise across the world. A report commissioned by Lancet in 2018 estimated that 1.1 billion people are currently affected by adverse mental health issues…

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How nature is good for our health and happiness

We all intrinsically think that nature must be good for our health and happiness. A recent analysis of a large-scale nature challenge scientifically shows how important feeling part of nature is to our physical and mental health

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Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate

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MeTURA – Back to the roots – a project for adults with learning disabilities

Using gardening and cooking to promote lifelong learning and independence for Adults with learning disabilities and their families

Gardening and cooking are activities that provide great opportunities for learning and practicing the skills needed for independent living. They provide adults with learning disabilities with opportunities to continue lifelong learning in a social family setting, through activities that the family can easily support.

Thrive is currently involved in an international project aiming to improve the lives of adults living with learning disabilities by encouraging family gardening and cooking as a way of supporting ongoing learning and independence.

The project ultimately aims to develop toolkits and resources to enable families and educators to make the most of the lifelong learning opportunities that gardening, and cooking can provide, It will give insights into the social and therapeutic benefits of these activities and show families how they can help loved ones with a learning disability prepare for a more independent life.

Funded by the EU, this Erasmus Project will last for three years and see Thrive working with other not-for-profit organisations in Slovenia, Croatia and Italy.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING DURABLE: Building Natural Strength in Our Kids

Words we’ve been hearing in the news lately are being touted as good academic medicine by some schools around the U.S. One is resilience—the ability to face adversity with confidence and gritted teeth. Then there’s grit itselfthe single-minded stick-to-it-tiveness that welcomes mistakes for their teaching potential.

Now comes the even broader term, durable. Like the slogan, “Built to Last,” durable means to be the best human being you can be, capitalizing on your own unique powers and drawing strength from the natural world around you.

In The Durable Human Manifesto, I applaud these words from Richard Louv’s best-seller, Last Child in the Woods“One might argue that the internet has replaced the woods, in terms of inventive space, but no electronic environment stimulates all the senses.”

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TOGETHER IN NATURE – Pathways to a Stronger, Closer Family

For Debra Scott, taking her daughter on weekly nature outings with other families was a revelation. “I noticed on those days my daughter slept better and had a better appetite. I noticed I slept better as well and was in a better mood. Especially in the winter months, stressful things seemed less important after a good play outside.”

As you may know, forming a close bond with your child is one of the most important things you can do—from infancy right up through the teenage years. Strong early bonds with parents, grandparents, and other caregivers help children feel a sense of trust and confidence throughout their lifetimes.

But nurturing those bonds requires things that are often in short supply in today’s world: time to slow down, focus, and block out the distractions of cell phones and other electronic devices; patience to listen and respond thoughtfully to a child’s needs and comments; and the capacity to keep daily stress in check enough to enjoy life’s small and great shared moments.

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Just one in five children connected to nature, says study

Large numbers of children in Britain are missing out on the natural world, a study from the RSPB suggests.

The three-year project found that only 21% of children aged 8-12 were “connected to nature”.

Girls were much more likely than boys to be exposed to the great outdoors, while children in Wales had the lowest score across the UK.

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Playing freely in nature may boost complex thinking, social skills in kids

Any activity that gets children thinking and acting spontaneously outdoors without needing adult control can help them develop complex thinking abilities, social skills, and creativity, according to a review of studies which may lead to innovative play spaces in childcare centres and schools.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, assessed the impacts of nature play on the health and development of children between two and 12 years of age, and found that the activities improved children’s complex thinking skills, social skills, and creativity.

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Coronavirus lockdown: Can nature help improve our mood?

At a time when so many of us are facing a heightened sense of threat as well as deep worries about our future, can nature lift our spirits?

“Our current crisis has switched us out of normal existence and into survival mode,” says Dr Anna Jorgensen, who researches the connection between environment and wellbeing at the University of Sheffield.

“We no longer see ourselves as quite so immortal,” she says.

With far more people unable to work, or working from home, many have been inspired to explore nature in their neighbourhood as they refocus on their immediate surroundings.

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What does care farming provide for clients? The views of care farm staff

Care farming in the UK can help the agricultural community to remain viable and facilitate public interaction with the natural environment. It can also be therapeutic because it can address a range of public health and service provision issues by engaging people in farming activities and improving their health, social and educational circumstances. This paper presents the findings from a UK qualitative study exploring what care farming staff feel are the aims and potential outcomes of the experience they provide with their clients.

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So you want to… run a care farm?

Accessing an agricultural holding on a regular basis can help a wide range of people with a vulnerability improve their health and wellbeing and build social skills.

It’s an opportunity that Social Farms & Gardens (formed by the merger of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and Care Farming UK) wants everyone to be able to access, but it won’t suit every farming business.

Dr Rachel Bragg, the charity’s care farming development manager, explains what anyone considering running a similar enterprise needs to know.

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Animal assisted therapy

‘Animals are used to help humans in different ways. Studies suggest that the effects of pet ownership can be beneficial to physical, social and psychological wellbeing. Research has found that stroking a pet can be relaxing and can result in a reduction in blood pressure. The presence of pets can also promote social interaction and reduce psychological responses to anxiety’

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Gardening as a therapeutic occupation

(Conference: College of occupational therapists annual conference, June 2011)

Evidence supporting the therapeutic value of gardening is vast, scattered across a broad range of disciplines, and mainly anecdotal in nature (Sempik et al 2003). The last synthesis of supporting evidence was last carried out by Sempik et al in 2003. This meta-ethnography was carried out in order to gather qualitative studies. 4 papers, out of 214, met the inclusion criteria. This research has synthesised a current, strong body of evidence supporting the therapeutic value of gardening as an occupation. People found meaning within gardening (Sempik et al 2003). It offered a process of recovery, and was seen as an act of self nurturing (Fieldhouse 2003). They could engage and develop on emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual levels. Gardening is a way to gain confidence, self esteem, and develop positive roles and identity…..

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The impact of nature on mental ill health

Most of us see nature as important in our own lives. Taking a break, or having a holiday often means being in nature: being by or in water, walking or gardening.

There is increasing evidence that engaging with nature can not only help people relax from the stresses and strains of everyday life, it can also help reduce mental health symptoms across a range of disorders.

Based on this evidence, we encourage those with mental health issues, where appropriate, to engage more directly with nature-based groups.

These groups or activities are sustainable because they are usually cheap to run, have low environmental impacts and are socially inclusive. This evidence is outlined in a wide range of papers (PDF).

The Green Care lead on our Sustainability Committee, Dr Alan Kellas, was recently interviewed on Radio 4. Dr Kellas was also interviewed for the November 2018 edition of RCPsych Insight magazine.

Recently, a model has been devised of how different people at different times can engage with nature to improve their health.

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A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care

The prevalence of mental ill-health is on the rise in the UK with an estimated one in four people experiencing a ‘significant’ mental health problem in any one year. With the prescription of anti-depressants at record levels and a huge demand for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other psychological therapies, health and social care commissioners are examining and commissioning different options for cost effective services for mental health. At the same time there is increasing recognition of the importance of nature and place as a determinant of individuals’ mental health. Nature-based interventions are operating throughout the UK, working with a wide range of vulnerable groups helping to positively benefit health and wellbeing outcomes.

These nature-based interventions (also called green care and ecotherapy) could be part of a new solution for mental health care. However increasing awareness and access to these interventions is challenging given the number of organisations delivering nature-based projects and services, the variety of terms and language used to describe their activity and benefits and the variation in delivery models which use different impact measures. This research seeks to explore these issues and set out the steps required to enable a greater number of nature-based interventions to be commissioned in mental health care.

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Good practice in social prescribing for mental health: the role of nature-based interventions

The Natural Environment White Paper The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011) sets out the need to strengthen the connection between people and nature. However, it acknowledges that the opportunities to benefit from spending time in the natural environment are currently not open to everyone, which can contribute to health and other inequalities. Natural England is committed to increasing the number and range of people who can experience and benefit from access to the natural environment, and through the Outdoors for All Programme is leading the Government’s ambition that ‘everyone should have fair access to a good quality natural environment’.

The prevalence of mental ill-health is on the rise in the UK with an estimated one in four people experiencing a ‘significant’ mental health problem in any one year. With prescriptions at record levels and a huge demand for other therapies, health and social care commissioners are examining and commissioning different options. With increasing recognition of the importance of nature and place as a determinant of individuals’ mental health, organisations providing nature-based interventions are working with a wide range of vulnerable groups throughout the UK. These nature-based interventions could be part of a new solution for mental health care, however increasing the awareness of, and access to, these interventions is challenging.

This new research builds on the findings from earlier Natural England reports listed below and explores the options for improving the commissioning of, and referral to, these services as well as scaling-up the provision of nature-based interventions.

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The health and wellbeing impacts of volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts

This study, carried out by the Green Exercise Team at the University of Essex, analysed data relating to the participation of 139 people in Wildlife Trusts projects between February 2016 and February 2017. It assessed changes in participants’ attitudes, behaviour and mental wellbeing over the course of 12 weeks, as a result of taking part in nature conservation volunteering programmes run by 5 Wildlife Trusts across the North, Midlands and South West of England.The principal finding was that the mental wellbeing of participants improved significantly over the 12-week period, and that improvements were greatest for people who had not previously taken part in Wildlife Trust activities. At the start of the study period, 39% of participants reported low wellbeing, compared to UK norms. After 12 weeks, this had reduced to 19%.Participants also reported enhanced levels of positivity, health, nature relatedness, pro-environmental behaviour, levels of physical activity and increased contact with greenspace.

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Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis


  • We performed a meta-analysis of the effects of gardening on human health.
  • Studies reported a wide range of health outcomes.
  • The positive association with gardening was observed for various health outcomes.
  • The effect size varied among different subgroups.
  • Positive effects of gardening remained after adjusting for publication bias.


There is increasing evidence that gardening provides substantial human health benefits. However, no formal statistical assessment has been conducted to test this assertion. Here, we present the results of a meta-analysis of research examining the effects of gardening, including horticultural therapy, on health. We performed a literature search to collect studies that compared health outcomes in control (before participating in gardening or non-gardeners) and treatment groups (after participating in gardening or gardeners) in January 2016. The mean difference in health outcomes between the two groups was calculated for each study, and then the weighted effect size determined both across all and sets of subgroup studies. Twenty-two case studies (published after 2001) were included in the meta-analysis, which comprised 76 comparisons between control and treatment groups. Most studies came from the United States, followed by Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Studies reported a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community. Meta-analytic estimates showed a significant positive effect of gardening on the health outcomes both for all and sets of subgroup studies, whilst effect sizes differed among eight subgroups. Although Egger’s test indicated the presence of publication bias, significant positive effects of gardening remained after adjusting for this using trim and fill analysis. This study has provided robust evidence for the positive effects of gardening on health. A regular dose of gardening can improve public health.

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Evidence Searches- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Horticultural Therapy

Animal Therapy

Gardening and mental health

Natural England Evidence Briefings 2016:

EIN015 edition 1 – Connection to Nature: evidence briefing

Methods, Glossary and Evaluation Resources: evidence briefing (EIN016)

Links between natural environments and learning: evidence briefing (EIN017)

Links between natural environments and mental health: evidence briefing (EIN018)

Links between natural environments and physical activity: evidence briefing (EIN019)

Links between natural environments and physiological health: evidence briefing (EIN020)

Links between natural environments and obesity: evidence briefing (EIN021)

What does care farming provide for clients? The views of care farm staff

Care farming in the UK can help the agricultural community to remain viable and facilitate public interaction with the natural environment. It can also be therapeutic because it can address a range of public health and service provision issues by engaging people in farming activities and improving their health, social and educational circumstances. This paper presents the findings from a UK qualitative study exploring what care farming staff feel are the aims and potential outcomes of the experience they provide with their clients.

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Greening for academic achievement: Prioritizing what to plant and where


•Greener schools have higher test scores, even after taking income into account.

•Middle school students may get a boost from school greening.

•Planting trees within 250m may boost scores most.


Converging evidence from hundreds of studies suggests that contact with nature enhances learning in elementary and high school students –– could greening in and around schoolyards improve academic achievement in sixth grade students, many of whom are negotiating the transition from elementary to middle school? This study examines the greenness-academic achievement relationship in 450 public schools in Washington State using two different measures of greenness (tree canopy cover and total green cover as assessed via NDVI), at two different scales (250m and 1000m radial buffers around a school), with two different measures of school achievement (the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in reading and math). Six of eight spatial error models showed statistically significant, positive relationships between school greenness and achievement in sixth-graders — tree canopy within 250m of a school predicted better performance in both reading and math, as did total greenness within 250m, and tree canopy within 1000m — even after controlling for 17 potential confounders, including student characteristics, school resources, size, and location. Further analyses suggest that the greenness-achievement ties are primarily driven by the tree cover within 250m of a school. If a community wanted to experiment with greening schools for academic achievement, these findings provide clues as to what might be best to plant and where, suggesting that planting trees within 250m might maximize any effect on achievement.

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Connecting People with Nature

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