Healthy community garden plan for Kentish Town doctor’s practice
- Credit: Debbie Bourne
A colourful idea is flowering to transform a neglected patch of land in Kentish Town into a jewel of a garden for GP patients and the community
Dr Jane Myat, of the Caversham Group practice, has a plan for a therapeutic space where patients can overcome social problems such as loneliness and anxiety by gardening, cooking and meeting new people.
“Our community at the practice recognised how many people were disconnected from each other and from chances to be healthy,” she said.
Doctors at the surgery were also aware of the risk of “medicalising” social problems. “Many people are suffering from simple things like loneliness and unhappiness that then lead to depression and anxiety.
“People can become fearful of going out. There is a gap for truly isolated and excluded people for whom the only place they feel safe is the surgery. If people are coming here anyway, we could provide a space where they can join in with activities, have social contact and feel a part of a community that can be lost in modern secular society.”
The space outside the practice has been a little neglected in recent times, becoming cluttered with old shrubs, lifeless soil and little greenery.
Soon it will be transformed into a haven brimming with fruit trees, tiered vegetable patches, rustling grasses, herbs and wooden booths where doctors and patients can talk. There will even be a cob oven in which to bake vegetables from the garden, pizzas and bread.
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Dr Myat has a few patients in mind in particular who inspired the garden idea. One is a young man who ended up first in gangs and then in prison.
“He’s now in a bedsit. He spends all his time in bed because he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He eats chips all day because he doesn’t know anything about cooking,” said Dr Myat.
“We had a conversation about how to make his life better. His other possibilities are chronic depression, or being radicalised because he is vulnerable. Or he may end up back in prison or stuck in a life of crime.”
Another is a man she has known for 20 years who was tortured in his home country. “He’s very fearful and isolated and has problems with trust, because of what’s happened.”
The man had gardened at another local day centre until it was shut down. “He lost his main activity and contact opportunity. He’s really excited about another safe space he could be involved with.”
Dr Myat blamed austerity cuts for the loss of opportunities to work with mental health patients. “We’ve seen about a 25 per cent cut in the mental health budget. All the services regarded as ‘peripheral’ have gone.
“Now there’s little access to day centres and fewer chances for important social contact or to learn about gardening and cooking.
“Only the measurable things have remained but less tangible treatments have value too. Low blood pressure and cholesterol don’t always translate into better health.”
Dr Myat eventually joined forces with horticulturalist Debbie Bourne, who runs a gardening and habitats company, Of Butterflies and Bees, and was the mastermind behind the Well-Beeing garden at the Kentish Town Health Centre.
Ms Bourne said: “Jane’s words of how many of her patients were victims of war torture or were isolated folks, people cut off from society – they really spoke from the heart. We want to help her create a place where she and her fellow doctors can listen to patients”
Ms Bourne will turf out old shrubs and replace them with plants from all over the world, to reflect the multicultural local community.
Fruit trees including apple, peach, fig and plum will line the edges. Inside will nestle tiered beds to grow vegetables, from beans and spring greens to chard and lettuce.
From April they will run gardening, cooking and arts classes in the garden, which has been named the Listening Space.
The title came from another collaborator on the project, local artist Bess Frimodig. Dr Myat said: “We were all struck by the sense of isolation in such a densely populated city. We had been musing on the topic of isolation and exclusion.
“We wanted to give people who feel voiceless the chance to be heard.”
The team has set £1,500 as an initial fundraising target but it will need much more to bring all the ideas and activities to fruition.
To donate visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/thelisteningspace
Volunteers are needed to help with “the big dig” day on Saturday, November 19. For more information contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org