Green Social Prescribing – YSJ Allotments

Earlier this year, Divine Charura, Professor of Counselling Psychology at YSJ, received funding through the Humber and North Yorkshire Green Social Prescribing Programme and HEY Smile Foundation to run a ‘test and learn’ green social prescribing project with communities from ethnically diverse backgrounds. As part of this, Dr. Raphaela Berding-Barwick, Researcher and Project Manager at the Institute for Social Justice, has been visiting an allotment on YSJ’s Haxby Road allotments with a group of asylum seekers to engage in gardening activities. In this blog post, Raphaela reflects on this project.

Between August and November, I met weekly with a group of asylum seekers at an allotment space on Haxby Road. While in the first four weeks, we only attended to two smaller raised beds, we had more gardening space after an additional four beds were made available for our group in September.

One aim of the project was to find out about the impact of gardening and engaging with nature on mental health and wellbeing for ethnically diverse communities. We wanted to measure this by finding out about changes in self-reported mental health and wellbeing over time, and so participants completed Brewin’s Trauma Scale, as well as GAD-7 and PhQ-9 questionnaires upon first coming to the allotment. However, my impression was that there was an instant effect of being in nature. Especially on the warm and sunny days, the group enjoyed being at the allotments, looking after the plants and being surrounded by greenery compared to the grey concrete in the city centre. Our meetings often lasted longer than two hours, in which we ventured across the allotment site, or sat down on the grass and talked.


Participation was at the heart of the project, and participants were involved in making decisions about what we would plant, although there were limits regarding seasons and weather conditions. In order to encourage participants to make suggestions about what they wanted to grow, I asked whether there were any plants, fruits or vegetables from their home countries which they could not find in the UK and which we could try growing. One participant from an African country suggested growing Blue Tea seeds, and after a quick Google search, I found a website which sold them. We managed to successfully grow some seedlings, which we will hopefully plant into the ground next year.

While I am a novice gardener, some participants had gardening experience, often from growing their own food in their home countries. Participants attended to the plants with a lot of care and had a lot of knowledge how to best plant seeds and seedlings so they would grow successfully. Coming to the allotment was not just something to improve mental health and wellbeing, but it also allowed participants to connect with their past lives and past identities.

The project has provided evidence for the potential of green activities to improve the wellbeing of individuals, and this is documented in a short film made by a participant. Although the gardening activities have finished for this season, Divine and I are planning how the allotment group can continue in the future.