How a general practice and local charities within Bensham, Gateshead joined forces to open an allotment for their local community
Case study summary
With support from local organisations Best of Bensham and the Carers Association in Gateshead, the Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group is now able to refer patients to a shared allotment space, as part of their social prescribing offer.
Sheinaz Stansfield, Practice Manager at the Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group, Gateshead, had been in negotiations with her local council for many years about acquiring a garden space for their practice, to offer an alternative space for patients to support their recovery.
Being a keen gardener herself, Sheinaz strongly believes in the therapeutic qualities gardening can bring, as well as the hidden physical benefits, calling her own garden her “green gym”. Unable to make progress with the local council, Sheinaz was made aware of another opportunity while working with the organisation Best of Bensham, which focuses on improving health inequalities within communities in Gateshead. The collaborative explained that an allotment space had been donated to them by Gateshead Carers Association but they were struggling to find the funds to manage the plot, which stood untouched for eight years. Colleagues from the Carers Association also expressed an interest in the allotment space, so between the three organisations, it was agreed that the general practice would donate £2,000 towards the allotment and the space would be shared between them all.
When discussing how the practice came to acquire the allotment, Sheinaz commented that “this opportunity only came about as a result of three local organisations proactively working together. We had originally met to discuss how we could all work together to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination to carers and vulnerable members of our community. This shows the true power of discussions and collaboration.”
As of March 2021, after weeks of careful maintenance, adhering to social distancing guidance, the allotment was ready to open, however, patients can’t visit the space until lockdown restrictions are eased. Patients registered with the Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group may be offered time at the allotment as part of a suite of activities the practice offers through social prescribing. The practice has worked hard since 2015 to incorporate social prescribing into different patient pathways and has two Social Prescribing Link Workers (SPLW) as part of the practice workforce. The SPLW role has become instrumental to how the practice supports many of its patients, including those with dementia, frailty, and patients suffering with chronic illness. Patients who are referred to the SPLW will be assessed on an individual basis and may be identified as someone who would benefit from visiting this outside space. However, this doesn’t mean that the patient will just be expected to tend to the vegetables; patients will be invited to simply spend time in the space as part of their recovery. Whether they choose to maintain the plot, grab a coffee or simply chat to other people at the site, numerous activities within the allotment will all contribute towards a more holistic approach to a patient’s health and wellbeing.
With the population of the UK having endured a year’s worth of restrictions, lockdowns and long periods of isolation, Sheinaz explains how the space may simply be used by patients who are feeling anxious about returning to ‘normal’, those who are lacking in confidence or who may have gained weight and are looking for a gentle route into exercise.
Thinking more widely about the health and care needs of their local population, the practice also intends to introduce educational sessions at the space, for both adults and children, to educate about healthy eating and lifestyle choices, as well as hosting cooking classes for those who may not currently eat a lot of, or know how to prepare, fresh vegetables. Sheinaz reflected on images of people queuing outside her local foodbanks and stressed that more needs to be done within her local area around growing your own veg and sustainable eating. The practice is currently working with Public Health England to see what this offer might look like in the future.
Sheinaz concluded by emphasising that although this space belongs to the three organisations, it is a shared space for the whole community, including neighbouring GP practices. The allotment is constantly receiving donations from local residents – be that old plant pots, seeds, or volunteers themselves who are keen to give their time to support the plot. The allotment itself has been transformed from an old, derelict site to a well maintained and fruitful space, and it is hoped that through social prescribing, people who visit the space will too begin to transform their own physical and mental wellbeing and come away from the experience feeling refreshed and reenergised.
To find out more about social prescribing, visit our social prescribing pages.