How to set up a community garden

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By Sophie Antonelli, Training and Development Manager

Community Gardens Wildlife area Windmill Hill City Farm Bristol (Social Farms & Gardens)
Community Gardens Wildlife area Windmill Hill City Farm Bristol (Social Farms & Gardens)

The benefits of community gardening (to individual and community)

Chances are, there’s a community garden to visit near most of us. With over 1,000 gardens in the UK alone, and the pandemic bringing into sharp focus the importance of green spaces in our lives, community gardens are increasingly being recognised as powerful connectors of people and the environment that create lasting health benefits and help our communities become more resilient.

Simply spending time outdoors provides a whole range of positive physical and mental health impacts, but doing something like gardening that actively engages us with nature (rather than just, say going for a walk) helps create a deeper connection. Studies now show that young people who develop this connection can experience lasting health benefits, and are themselves more likely to take action to protect the planet by making more environmentally conscious choices.

Community gardens also help bring people from a diverse range of backgrounds together, creating strong community links, reducing isolation for vulnerable people and helping teach and share new skills and ideas.

How community gardens can contribute to biodiversity

The UK’s gardens provide vital habitats for wildlife, especially in urban areas where cultivated plants and flowers can be some of the only sources of food for our vital pollinators. Community gardens not only provide this rich and varied habitat space, but also offer vital learning opportunities for people to discover how to make their own gardens more wildlife friendly – from planting wildflowers to building bug hotels, even the smallest garden or window box can make a difference!

Community Gardening at Carpenters Estate, Newham Stratford (Social Farms & Gardens)
Community Gardening at Carpenters Estate, Newham Stratford (Social Farms & Gardens)

Setting up – The top 5 tips

At Social Farms & Gardens we’ve spent more than forty years supporting the UK’s community gardens, city farms, care farms and other community growing spaces to grow and thrive. So, if you want to start a community garden in your area, here are our top five things to consider:

  1. Find your people – community gardens are a lot of work, with many different skills required, so find others who are passionate about creating a change in your community and look for ways to work together.
  2. Identify the need – avoid having a fixed idea of what your garden might look like when you’re first starting out, instead spend some time talking to other people about what is most needed locally. This will help the garden benefit the maximum number of people.
  3. Find the land – the chances are, you might know if a few different pieces of land in your area that aren’t currently being used. Your local authority should be able to help you identify who owns them, or suggest suitable spaces if you don’t know of any.
  4. Get insurance – as soon as you start inviting people onto your garden, you need insurance to protect them, youself and your organisation. SF&G works with the specialist insurance broker McClarrons to provide bespoke cover for community growing activities.
  5. Promote yourselves! – let people know about what you’re doing. Social media is a great way to reach large audiences, find prospective volunteers and thank people for their help. You might also find that you can get coverage in local newspapers and on local radio stations, who are often keen to cover something positive and that little bit different.

Sustaining your garden

Up and running already? Great! Here are our top tips on sustaining your community garden.

  1. Meet regularly – the importance of good communication cannot be overstated for community groups! Regular and well facilitated meetings help everyone stay connected and informed about upcoming plans, as well as helping to tackle any issues quickly as and when they arise.
  2. Value volunteers – people often focus on recruiting volunteers, when in fact retaining them is what we should be concentrating on. Thinking about what people need to feel heard and valued, offering training, and thanking people for their work all go a long way to ensuring our precious volunteers stay with us. That and the all-important supply of tea and biscuits!
  3. Find funding – even the smallest garden needs some money to run, even if it’s just to cover essentials like insurance, tools and some seeds. Social Farms & Gardens produces a monthly Resource Round-Up which lists current grant opportunities, and your local Community Foundation is a great way to find other funders who may be interested in supporting you. Alternatively, you could consider crowdfunding, as many SF&G partners have done through

Access further resources here.

Harvesting on the Carpenters Estate, Newham Stratford (Social Farms & Gardens)
Harvesting on the Carpenters Estate, Newham Stratford (Social Farms & Gardens)

How organisations can support their local community garden

There are many ways that organisations can support community gardens, and the first step is to go and have a chat with them and find out what they need. You might be able to support fundraising activities, help with open days, supply some muscle for some big jobs, or maybe look to work together in a partnership. Who knows where that first chat could lead you!

You could also get involved in our national celebration of community growing – Have A Grow Day – happening in 2022 on Saturday June 18th.

Community Gardens Windmill Hill City Farm Bristol (Social Farms & Gardens)
Community Gardens Windmill Hill City Farm Bristol (Social Farms & Gardens)

Sophie co-founded and ran a community garden in central Peterborough for 10 years, before joining Social Farms & Gardens in 2015. She has also worked as a gardener and garden designer, winning a Hampton Court Flower Show gold medal in 2014 in collaboration with the artist Jeni Cairns.

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Posted On: 30/03/2022

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