When the UK government announced plans for the country to go into lockdown in wake of the COVID pandemic in March 2020, many people were left feeling isolated, alone and depressed.


However, a study carried out from 2019 to 2022 by a team at the University of Essex has found that volunteers who worked on therapeutic community gardens during this time actually reported an increase in mental wellbeing.

The study followed 53 volunteers with existing mental health conditions that worked on therapeutic community gardens run by Trust Links, an independent mental health charity based in Southend.

The researchers found that, over this period, the volunteers’ levels of self-reported life satisfaction and mental well-being increased by 9 per cent, bucking the national downward trend.

“There is growing evidence to support the use of nature-based interventions for the treatment of mental ill-health and great potential to upscale the use of therapeutic community gardening through the Government and NHS’ Green Social Prescribing agenda,” said lead researcher Dr Carly Wood, from the University of Essex's School of Sport, Rehabilitation, and Exercise Sciences.

“The pandemic drew this clearly into focus and showed that even as we coped with unprecedented disruption and upheaval community gardening has the power to help some of society’s most vulnerable people."

The team are now calling for more investment and research into the positive effects of therapeutic gardening in the hope that it could take some of the pressure off the NHS’s mental health services.

“Through this evaluation with the University of Essex it is clear that our Growing Together therapeutic community gardening projects have a powerful impact on mental health and wellbeing, improving connections with other people, providing positive activities, giving people’s lives meaning and hope, and enabling people to spend time outdoors with nature,” said Matt King, chief executive of Trust Links.

“Further investment in these services will help reduce demand on the NHS and social care, helping us to grow communities and transform lives.”

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.