Whether it's learning to grow your own food or helping to conserve water in your local area – community gardening can have a huge impact on mental health, wellbeing and our environment.
This Community Garden Week we spoke to our Head of Communications, Jo Osborn about her involvement with Abbey Physic Community Garden in Faversham, and the value of these brilliant community resources.
How long have you worked for South East Water and what did you do before?
I’ve been with the company for nearly 12 years now working in our communications team. I have a degree in geography and after leaving university I decided to travel the world for a bit. When I got back I took a job with Southern Water looking after its computer mapping system – which had a Geography element to it. However, I soon realised I wasn’t destined to work with IT and so I went for role within their communications team. After learning lots I took a job with South East Water and have been here ever since.
How did you get involved with Abbey Physic Community Garden and what is your role within the charity?
A few years back I was living in a house which didn’t have a garden and I was conscious I wanted to do some sort of volunteering which got me outside a bit more. I also wanted to do something to give back to my local community. It was actually our Regulation and Strategy Director, Oliver Martin who suggested I speak to a member of our Customer Challenge Group at the time who worked for Swale Borough Council. She knew about lots of volunteering opportunities and suggested I check out the Abbey Physic Community Garden in Faversham as it was looking for a new Trustee. Trustees are a group of volunteers who help look after how a charity is run, help to support staff and bring in expertise from other areas and industries. I decided to take up the role and became the Secretary so helped with organising trustee meetings and the AGMs and help play a part in fundraising for the garden.
What’s the best part of being involved with the garden?
For me it’s the people, everyone is so lovely and they all really care about and support each other. The Abbey Physic mission is to ‘Grow a healthy community’ which you really feel is true when you’re there.
The garden is so beautiful and I would encourage everyone to visit! It’s just like the Secret Garden as it’s surrounded by a wall and shielded from view until you open the old wooden door onto a magical little place. The aim is to get people gardening, but also to help with mental and physical health. Being out in the fresh air and working with your hands is really good for your wellbeing and over the years the charity has developed some really lovely community activities. There is a little café where they run arts and craft workshops and a community kitchen which teaches people to cook with fresh produce from the garden. There is also a new project focussed around ‘mens sheds’. The idea behind these is to help men open up about their mental health and give them an opportunity to get involved with practical work, such as building wildlife boxes creating things for the garden.
Why does South East Water Support Community Gardens?
Community gardens are such fantastic hubs and so being part of them is really helpful for the company. If something goes wrong in a local area the community has a connection to South East Water which means we can try and help support them. They can also help us to get advice out to members about things such as our Priority Services Register and information on financial support.
The other thing I think is fabulous is they’re such great places to learn about gardening. At Abbey Physic there are loads of water butts, they use rainwater harvesting and they even have compostable toilets – which means no water is needed to flush them. It really helps to teach some invaluable water efficiency skills and shows that you can have a really beautiful and thriving garden without needing to use too much water. One really nice example of this at Abbey Physic is a gardening method they use called Hügelkultur. It’s basically a way of making a really fertile bed for plants to grow in using rotting wood laid under the soil – which I think is brilliant.
What benefit do the gardens have to our environment?
As well as the water efficiency side of things, I think community gardens are a great way to encourage more diversity in people’s own gardens and outdoor spaces. For example Abbey Physic has given seeds packs out to people who couldn’t come and visit during the pandemic due to restrictions. This all helps to get more plant diversity out and about and encourage more interest in our wildlife and environment.
Why would you recommend people join their local community gardens?
Even if you have an outdoor space, you can get loads of inspiration from a community garden. If you don’t have a garden, it’s a great chance to get involved with your local environment and grow plants and vegetables that you might not be able to do at home. It’s also really good for your mental health and wellbeing and I think it’s so nice to have more consciousness of your local neighbourhood and feel part of something special.
“As well as the water efficiency side of things, I think community gardens are a great way to encourage more diversity in people’s own gardens and outdoor spaces.”