At Environment Wales we support an assortment of organisations working on equally as diverse projects with one common aim: to undertake voluntary action to protect and improve the Environment. One of the projects that we support is Mind Diggers Allotment Project, delivered by Cardiff Mind to develop an allotment site, in order to provide gardening opportunities for people with mental health difficulties. The project manages a .025 acre patch on the Colchester Avenue Allotment site; it is situated in the local community and so helps to increase the self-esteem and self-confidence of the volunteers and encourages outdoor activity, exercise and healthy living.
The group registered with Environment Wales in 2006 and have received funding and support to develop the infrastructure of the growing project which included the erection of a large poly-tunnel. This feature has benefitted the group in a myriad of ways; extended the growing season, it acts as a shelter and provides the group with increased training options. The project provided a van service that offered gardening and landscaping to the local community – a social enterprise run by volunteers. The volunteers progressed onto the social enterprise once skills were acquired; the allotment project not only assisted volunteers to gain these skills but fostered an environment that generated self-confidence and well-being.
The group acknowledged that the project was expanding and applied to Environment Wales for a Management grant to develop the project. In 2008 the group were awarded funding for a part-time post (3 days/wk) to develop the project. The first postholder managed the landscape project alongside the EW funded post. Due to the success of the project she moved on to manage the landscape project –full time- and was replaced by a Project Manager to continue the tenure. The main tasks of the postholder are to oversee and plan all allotment activities and ensure the smooth running of the project. This includes working with the volunteers at the allotment in a very hands-on role, providing one-to-one support where necessary or coordinating groups; ensuring health and safety of volunteers and service users, volunteer recruitment and supervision, mentoring, coaching and horticultural planning. The project has an open door policy, people are able to self refer but can also be signposted by agencies that are aware of the project – this includes GP referrals due to the recognised social, health and well-being benefits associated with allotmenteering / ‘green exercise’. The volunteers undertake a detailed induction process which includes completion of an outcomes star that tracks distance travelled for expertise gained throughout their involvement with the project such as gardening as well as life skills. The project has encouraged participants, often suffering from a range of mental health issues, to open up and feel safe in the allotment environment. As the volunteers develop they have become mentors to new volunteers
and progressed onto paid employment- this is as a result of that initial contact with the Mind Digger project and those involved. The success was particularly exemplified by an ex-service user of the group, who, after his referral became a volunteer and took part in activities at the project. As his knowledge grew, so did his confidence. Due to his interest and understanding of flora and fora he encouraged and trained other volunteers and service users about the environment and wildlife. He started to input more into the project, in terms of ideas and direction and is currently a trained bee keeper, caring for bees situated at the allotment, and will continue leading the project as the new Project Manager from April 2014.
This is the first project of its kind, associated with Cardiff Mind – in connecting people through nature and growing. The success of the ‘Mind Diggers’ project has benefits as a replicable model for mental health charities in Wales. The peer support, wildlife appreciation, healthy living and food growing all contribute to well-being and an improvement to health overall – what a difference a mind makes!