New report highlights opportunity for more food growing on prescription

A new report, published by food and farming charity Sustain has highlighted the opportunity for social prescribing services being rolled out across London and the UK, to make use of health and wellbeing benefits provided by community food gardens.

Workshop at Spitalfields City Farm

Workshop at Spitalfields City Farm

The research findings, based on a survey with 70 London-based community food garden leaders and interviews with 18, show that despite the desire to get involved in social prescribing services, many gardens have not been able to make contact with services, let alone have received any referrals.

The reasons for this include; a lack of clear information about where local social prescribing services are based; lack of understanding of how these services are working and what types of people they are targeting. There are also concerns about who will ultimately fund activities as many are presently currently unfunded, with NHS funding focussing on the establishment of link-worker posts. . 

Despite these issues, many of the garden leaders interviewed recognised the opportunities their community food gardens presented for the health service, as the follow excerpts show:

  • Moving away from the over medicalised model and cultivating therapeutic values by being in the garden and being surrounded by people.” (Skip Garden)
  • The great thing about the farm is that we mix everyone together so there is no segregation, but also we are a working farm and this has lot of benefits.” (Growing Communities Dagenham Farm)

Many were already in contact with other referral schemes and some were receiving grant or public sector funding to run services. Suggestions made to increase the number of referrals include an easily identifiable contact or clear route into local social prescribing services, clearer messaging on how services work and who they are for, capacity-building for gardens to feel referral ready and further exploration of funding mechanisms.

Sarah Williams, Programme Director at Sustain, said:

“The report is really important stepping stone in helping us to find out how we can overcome the barriers that are stopping the health services make use of this rich network of community food gardens in London and other cities in the UK”.

Sustain has been campaigning for food growing to be routinely used as part of our progressive and preventative NHS agenda for over six years with its Growing Health campaign. For this research, they have teamed up with the Mayor of London’s Health Team who have been working with the voluntary sector to see how they can get more join up with social prescribing services.

Report recommendations

The report makes a number of recommendations to ensure community gardens are prepared and supported to be part of the future of healthcare services in London and beyond. This includes:

  • Clearer vision of who Social Prescribing is targeting and information on Social Prescribing contacts in each borough
  • Training and capacity building for garden leaders to feel referral ready
  • Involvement of service users in understanding what works and how to improve referrals to gardens.
  • Training, events and tours to engage Social Prescribing link workers in what community gardens can offer clients
  • Work to explore digital signposting
  • Funding pots to help gardens and networks increase capacity and referrals

Sustain’s Capital Growth and Growing Health campaigns will be working with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and other partners to implement recommendations from the report.

The full report and a summary report are available for download here

Find out more about Growing Health and Capital Growth

The report was supported by the Greater London Authority


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Capital Growth is a project of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.

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