You can read the full case study below or take a look at and download the infographic – which provides a short, print-friendly summary of the case study – here.
Introducing Grow Well Cardiff
Grow Well is a partnership between non-profit Grow Cardiff and the NHS. Grow Cardiff supports people across Cardiff to create and sustain community gardens. The Grow Well project allows GPs at 11 surgeries to socially prescribe activities at two community gardens to patients they think may benefit. Grow Well has been supported by the Welsh Government’s Innovate to Save programme, which offered grant funding, non-financial support and access to unsecured, interest-free loans for new ideas with the potential to generate cost savings and improvements in Welsh public services.
How does Grow Well Cardiff work?
The project allows GPs, primary care staff, in-house social prescribers and community health partners such as drug and alcohol recovery services to prescribe activity at two Grow Cardiff community gardens to any patient they think may benefit from the physical activity, social contact or therapeutic and health benefits of food growing. Activities include things like weeding, watering, harvesting, creative arts and crafts, making raised beds and digging ponds. If prescribed, patients join other patients and participants involved with the garden.
Once patients enter the garden gate, though, they become ‘volunteers’. Grow Well asks volunteers what they would like to do and help with, as opposed to what they need, or what problems they wish to address. Activity is framed positively. Grow Well finds this ‘asset-based approach’ is key. It allows Grow Well to still meet needs and help with problems, whilst emphasising that everyone has something to give and share, and that there is an equal playing field between the newest volunteers and staff members. All are welcomed and valued.
Combined with the social interaction this entails, community gardens are designed to realise health and wellbeing benefits, along with cost savings, based on insights that:
- Interaction with nature brings various wellbeing benefits.
- Growing food results in health benefits and a deeper connection to the land.
- People with mental and physical health conditions face higher barriers to social activities.
What impact is Grow Well Cardiff having?
In the context of these insights, and rising cost pressures on the NHS in Wales, Grow Well has shown promising shoots of social and economic impact. There are some caveats, though. Firstly, the Innovate to Save timescale didn’t align effectively with the seasonal nature of community gardening. With less gardening take up, this meant the sample size was small. The pilot study was also short, limiting how robust the findings are. With that said …
- Pre- and post-surveys indicate a positive improvement in wellbeing.
- Respondents reported feeling more relaxed, useful, optimistic about the future and decisive after engaging with the project.
- Qualitative interviews suggested a reduction in social isolation and inverse improvement in social connectedness.
- Interviews also indicated increased physical activity and fruit and veg intake.
- For each person prescribed community-garden activity, Grow Cardiff predicts a £212 annual saving on statutory services, based on Welsh Government figures.
What can Grow Well Cardiff teach us about effective relationship-centred design?
Public spaces are often important in facilitating new relationships, and different types of space have different effects.
The impact of Grow Well relies not just on social interaction and activities, but also the environment in which they are undertaken. Being outdoors, such as in a garden, is shown to have particular psychological benefits that may not be realised in other communal spaces.
Mutual relationships help improve wellbeing.
Encouraging mutual relationships, in which both parties have agency and value, is an effective means of generating improved wellbeing. In Grow Well’s case, participants reported feeling more useful and therefore valued through their gardening work, given Grow Well’s asset-based approach, just as their work benefited others. This also points to the fact that …
Skills and training can help cultivate meaningful relationships.
Shared activities are valuable for generating social capital, partly because they do so indirectly. The focus on learning gardening skills doubles in Grow Well as a growth in social capital. Supportive relationships don’t necessarily need to be labelled as such.
A better use of resources beats more use of resources.
We’ve tried to select case studies, Grow Well being an example, that show how a reallocation of resources – in this case from statutory services to community gardening – can result not only in greater wellbeing and social contact, but also cost savings.
What’s next for Grow Well Cardiff?
The Grow Well project continues to receive support from the Southwest GP cluster in Cardiff. The team is looking to refine its impact model, develop closer links with the social-prescribing movement and expand the project’s reach to include the wider community, e.g. by welcoming families from the local school and people from local community centres into the gardens to work alongside the volunteers.
Want to learn more?
Has this case study inspired any comments, ideas or critiques?
Please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if so. An essential part of the Relationships Project is learning from others engaged in thinking about relationship-centred design. We don’t have all the answers, so hope some people reading will contribute suggestions.