Innovative Garden Sharing Project Benefits Elderly Health

And could save public money, says Age UK Wandsworth

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An innovative garden-sharing project in Wandsworth has helped to improve the health and well-being of older people, and could potentially save the taxpayer thousands of pounds, according to a report from Age UK Wandsworth and NHS

The Garden Partners scheme, which was the first of its kind in the UK when it began in 2009, links older garden owners with volunteers for gardening and growing fruit and vegetables together.

The scheme has helped more than 60 garden owners to continue to be independent, helping them to remain in – and enjoy – their own homes for longer. An independent evaluation found that many garden owners who took part in the scheme in 2011 said that their health had improved or remained stable as a result. One-third reported improved mobility and activity levels, while more than half said that anxiety had been reduced.

The greatest boost to the well-being of both garden owners and volunteers was the lasting friendship that had in many cases resulted from sharing the garden.

The scheme is backed by horticulturalist and broadcaster Christine Walkden, who said: “Garden Partners cultivates not only soil but people, friendships and lifelong relationships. The bringing together of people who need space to grow-their-own with older people who have land to spare is a fantastic idea, in the long term benefiting mind, body and soul.”

The project could also help to save on high-cost health and social services for older people. Using standard health and social care costings, researchers estimated that as much as £30,000 per person each year could be saved through fewer GP visits, hospital admissions avoided and reduced need for home care.

Taking just those older people in the survey who reported improvements to their health, researchers calculated a potential saving in one year to the NHS of £113,748. If the estimate was widened to include older people whose health got no worse, this gave a potential annual saving of £500,223.

It is not only the garden owners who find the scheme rewarding. The volunteers, who commit a minimum of two hours a week to the scheme, also noted benefits such as the pleasure of assisting somebody else, and the way that gardening helped to relieve the stress and tension
of their daily working lives.

The average annual worth of each volunteer’s time given to the project was £3,065 per person. With 43 volunteers participating in 2011, the total annual value of their contribution was £131,795.

Age UK Wandsworth and NHS Wandsworth have produced the report, Growing Friendships, to promote the Garden Partners concept and encourage more schemes like it across the UK. Garden Partners coordinator, Sarah Jackson, said: "We are delighted how successful the scheme has been. Older people are staying healthier and happier for longer, and everyone benefits through being part of a scheme to which they all contribute."

NHS Wandsworth commissioner Andrew McMylor commented: "It is about seeing the bigger picture, not just the immediate presenting health needs. Garden Partners has the potential to contribute so much to the quality of life and health of both older and younger generations." The full report, Growing Friendships, by Sarah Jackson, Jane Harris and Stephanie Sexton, is available at

July 18, 2012