Food growing projects yield more than just vegetables

  • Green space projects can help social landlords achieve their wider responsibilities and goals
  • Initiatives such as food growing can have a positive impact on communities if done correctly
  • There is a wealth of helpful information and best practice guidance on how to realise your organisation’s green space ambitions

Access to healthy, affordable and sustainable food has become an important issue in the UK, inspiring communities to get growing.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of projects and initiatives relating to community gardening and food growing. The social housing sector is playing a major role in this movement, as social landlords recognise how these projects can help them achieve their wider responsibilities and goals.

But, while green space projects can bring remarkable benefits, poor design or mismanagement can actually be damaging for communities. It is therefore important that social landlords approach these initiatives correctly to help unlock their tremendous potential.

Helping to achieve your organisation’s wider goals

Social landlords are not only responsible for meeting housing needs, but also for helping tenants to build healthy, cohesive and sustainable communities. Food growing projects, especially in inner city and deprived areas, can significantly improve the health and wellbeing of residents.

Beyond the promotion of healthier lifestyles and increasing community cohesion, high quality public spaces can also help boost the local economy, provide valuable volunteering opportunities, assist in education and reduce crime, according to a Design Council study.

Nourishing your food growing plans

Neglected or poorly designed public spaces can result in higher levels of crime, vandalism, antisocial behaviour and feelings of isolation within the community. It is therefore important to carefully plan any food growing project, and to establish a sustainable model for their future upkeep and success.

In the wake of large-scale housing stock transfers, many social landlords are finding themselves responsible for more green space than local authorities. However, the expertise needed to develop and manage these spaces rarely moves across with them.

Much of this responsibility tends to fall to groups who may lack the skills and knowledge to successfully undertake projects such as food growing. With financial pressures a constant concern, estate managers are often reluctant to undertake new green space projects, or to sustain existing ones.

But by potentially helping to develop a community’s sense of pride in their public spaces, and subsequently reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, these projects should pay for themselves over time. Social landlords should therefore not be put off by the initial challenges they may pose, but make use of the wealth of guidance and assistance that is available to help them achieve their green space ambitions.

Securing a good harvest

Neighbourhoods Green is one organisation helping social landlords unlock this green space potential. In partnership with the National Housing Federation (NHF) and other organisations, Neighbourhoods Green recently published its Edible Estates guide, which is packed full of practical support for those working to establish food-growing initiatives on social housing-owned land. It covers a range of options for establishing a successful project, whether led by the housing organisation itself, handed over to the local communities or run in partnership with other organisations, such as charities.

Zurich Municipal is also helping people make the best of their public spaces via the My Community Starter website. Neighbourhoods Green approached Zurich Municipal as a result of the clear synergy with My Community Starter, achieving good quality green space, and mitigating risk. Together with the NHF and the University of Sheffield, they produced the Greener Neighbourhoods guide, which provides a practical resource for those creating a social housing green space.