This Wales Nature Week, we are highlighting the importance of nature on mental health and wellbeing. Emma and Keisha from Cardiff Third Sector Council interviewed Louise from SRCDC (South Riverside Community Development Centre) to discuss the Growing Together Project and the positive effects of environmental volunteering in Cardiff on mental health and wellbeing.
What is the Growing Together Project?
The Growing Together Project is an 18-month project funded until October 2021 by Landfill Tax Community Fund. The project aims to make Riverside greener, increase growing skills of residents including children, and encourage interest around biodiversity.
Volunteers play a key role in the project and have populated the Growing in Riverside Whatsapp group to over 100 members. They ensure the project can run smoothly by collecting plants and soil and by helping maintain street planters all around Riverside.
From Pandemic to Planting
The pandemic sparked an interest in the Riverside community in growing food and plants at home. Growing Together Project provided online informal learning to match this interest and supported many households in Riverside who were growing plants for the first time.
Front and back gardens are the biggest spaces in South Riverside and so these spaces were targeted to increase biodiversity through community education. The whole community got involved, including 9-year-old Ajwa who persuaded her dad to help her participate in Growing Together by planting wildflower seeds in their front garden to support pollinators.
Louise is delighted at how many people expressed interest and desire to learn more about the wildlife around them, overhearing discussions on birds, slow worms and foxes. The project has even linked with other community growers to form a Cardiff-wide network called Edible Cardiff.
Support from the council-run nurseries at Bute Park has also boosted their impact by providing edible plants for the community growing projects across Cardiff.
Nature is Nurturing
During lockdown, many volunteers reported that learning to grow food was an important activity for the whole family, often connecting generations within households and giving families a way to spend time together.
For example, grandparents passed on practical skills they learnt from their childhood to teach the younger generation. Riverside was particularly affected by COVID19 with its crowded and multi-generational households, so the project provided some much-needed escapism.
Growing food became a way to connect families and manage mental health through a particularly difficult period. Volunteers have expressed just how much growing has benefitted their mental health by giving them a focus during difficult times.
For some volunteers, the project has acted as a steppingstone to other opportunities. For example, one volunteer-turned-employee is leading the Spring Edible Cardiff Festival. Louise hopes Growing Cardiff can provide further employment opportunities too.
The Future of Urban Environmental Volunteering
When talking about the local community, Louise said ‘They are the people who make or break the project’. She emphasised that urban communities are most invested in their immediate environment and that planning decisions about the environment should be led by local people.
She highlighted the importance of collaboration with wider environmental projects to make sure local understanding merges with nature experts.