The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Community Greening team are usually out and about every day - meeting, encouraging, and assisting people in community gardens across NSW. At a time when people need support more than ever, here’s how this community has not just survived but thrived through a period of isolation.
What is Community Greening?
Community Greening works collaboratively to empower communities supporting them to grow, share and learn together developing community gardens. We specifically work with communities living in social housing.
It’s our team’s job to be solution focused and have a can-do attitude whilst acknowledging the challenges faced within our communities. Many people out in community are already isolated or impacted by physical or mental health issues, so to tackle these issues while staying home required some quick action and fresh ideas.
Remembering the why
To support our community groups we took it back to the basic tenants of Community Greening. For example, one thing we like to educate groups about is why they enjoy gardening so much. The health benefits from being outdoors in nature (known as biophilia) are proven, and we have seen it for ourselves through our program thanks to research by Western Sydney University.
Another benefit to joining a garden is feeling a part of your community – working together towards sustainability, food security and greening the urban environment. It’s all about getting those hands dirty with a bit of hard work, at your own pace. Planting seeds and caring for plants and country makes us feel valued and gives us something to care for and nurture, these activities can also take our minds off other troubles and worries we may have.
Even before our Royal Botanic Garden Sydney team was restricted in their movement due to COVID-19, we had received feedback about how important their gardens were from people impacted by the 2019/2020 bush fires.
One group evacuated three times due to fire, and now practising physical distancing, told us that the community garden has been their saviour. Despite support services being unable to attend they continue to care for their community garden, including supporting each other to mow lawns and maintain their home gardens.
This is community delivering real placemaking and community capacity building - who wouldn’t feel great about that?
Connecting through isolation
One way to keep our communities connected despite staying home was to look online to the social media and website resources available.
A Community Greening Facebook group was already in place, so we utilised this as a place to share ideas and interact. Through spreading the word and sharing more content including new Facebook live sessions we have seen this group double in size.
We also quickly started the CV Community Virtual Greening Challenge which encouraged members from across NSW to continue connecting with their gardens in any way they could. If unable to get out in their gardens, we wanted to see their nature-based art works, indoor gardens and favourite produce recipes being shared.
We had prizes on hand for the CV Community Virtual Greening Challenge to encourage participation, and had a whole array of photos, videos, and stories from people of all ages being posted.
“I have to say Phil that you and the group have come up with a wonderful way of educating and breaking the monotony caused by isolation, I have just been talking with a representative from Black Dog about the benefits of Community Greening for mental health.”
- via Facebook
Our printed newsletter - particularly important for those not online - is now going out with greater frequency to members' mailboxes across NSW. It shares all of our Virtual Greening Challenge entries and more inspiring activities from our groups.
We also include articles for mindfulness with a focus on being outdoors (or looking outside when that’s not possible) as we know this is also proven to help our health and wellbeing.
Developing skills for the future
Those of us in the Community Greening team have been taking our own advice to keep mentally active and make the most of the changes by upskilling in a new way.
The whole team undertook training to enhance our digital media skills and we have started producing short educational videos to compliment Facebook live and video conference workshops and support new and improved online how-to resources.
Video has been a great way for our community groups to not only see and hear our practical gardening advice but also to connect and engage – we are often online to reply to questions and continue conversations sparked by the video content.
Check an example of our videos below, we whipped this up for International Compost Week:
Speaking of the future...
Check out the links below for some of my favourite online how-to guides, stories, and activities for the kids.
So, what are you waiting for? Get outside and get growing, caring and sharing!