Sunday, 8 May 2022
Kindness always matters, no ifs or buts, always.
I’m so glad to have enjoyed a few days of heavy rain. Everything in the garden has perked up, and the rain hasn’t deterred me from getting outside and getting on with life. As well as our garden, the rain was also good for my little ‘guerrilla garden’ which sits in the grass verge that lines our street. It is wonderful to live on a road that boasts grass verges, albeit they are not very wide. Despite it being a somewhat hostile environment due to the road being a busy one, if left unattended, the grass grows tall, we get daisies, buttercups and other wildflowers. Sadly, they are seldom allowed to grow too tall. Along come the council parks department on their sit-on mowers and literally shave the grass as close to the ground as they can get.
One of the first things I did when I moved here was to plant a cherry tree in the middle of our verge. I also planted daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses. The tree has survived somehow and after the first year when the council mower cut all the plants down, I’m left alone now to tend my verge. Our little patch has been added to with plants from our garden. This year I planted some lupins as an experiment to see if they could survive the dry and windy conditions. It may only be a very small patch of colour, but it attracts a lot of attention. Other folk living on the road have started to plant daffodils, and mow their own verges. It gives me a sense of community. I belong here and I feel part of something bigger.
I have been doing ‘guerrilla gardening’ for many years now. For a few pounds it’s possible to plant bulbs, sow seeds and create stunning flashes of colour on those all too often neglected pieces of land. I’m not alone in doing this of course. Those fabulous folk at Incredible Edible have been successfully growing fruit trees, herbs and vegetables on spare bits of land in and around their local communities for years. From a small start in Todmorden, the idea has spread around the world. I hope the idea will continue to grow (sorry). With the cost of living rising each day, growing your own food either by yourself or with others has to be very attractive.
Eating something you have grown is also satisfying in so many ways. These days we grow our own tomatoes and globe artichokes. Given the spiralling food costs, we might have to rethink our garden, however. I found it interesting that during the first pandemic lockdown, many people started to grow their own food. One of our neighbours could not grow and sell his tomatoes, cucumber and pepper plants fast enough to meet the demand.
There is a great deal of research that strongly suggests growing thing, gardening and being out in green spaces is good for our mental health and wellbeing (see here ). It’s more than the physical exercise (which will release endorphins). Growing something is a form of caring. It can give us a sense of purpose, give rise to a feeling of achievement, and for some, it can become a creative opportunity to express who you are. I think like walking, gym membership and so on, prescribing a packet of seeds should be in the social prescribing formulary.
We are fortunate to have a garden, but there are many folk who don’t. Finding somewhere to grow even a small amount of food in such situations can be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Offering to help a neighbour who for various reasons might not be able to manage their gardens is one idea. There are many other benefits to doing something like this. We saw during the pandemic how loneliness took its toll on so many people. Regularly working in someone else’s garden can help overcome this, as well as providing food to share. It can be a win/win situation.
Loneliness, and its impact on our mental health and wellbeing is the focus for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week, which starts tomorrow. See here for detail of how you might get involved. There are plenty of ways for us all to do something toward helping others. We saw during the pandemic; it’s what communities can do so well. This was a theme of a webinar I was part of last week. Hosted by The Good Governance Institute it featured the totally charismatic Paul Gilluley . Paul is a forensic psychiatrist, which I know from personal experience, can be a very difficult end of mental health care to be in, but he is also Medical Director of East London NHS Foundation Trust, and Medical Director Designate for the North East London Integrated Care Board.
From the off, Paul acknowledged and recognised the importance of the experience, knowledge and community connectedness many third sector and voluntary groups can make to really making a difference to the health and wellbeing of others. He was passionate about how we might harness this and we spent an engaging and fast-paced hour looking at how engagement with communities might happen – and what the possible outcomes might be.
He drew on his experience of leading the vaccination roll out and the importance of understanding what was important to diverse communities in making this happen. He talked about the importance of language in attempting to engage with others. Very much like I have said to many thousands of my students - learn to listen, take time to listen and if you are to ask questions, start with asking people what matters to them. He understood that the folk who live somewhere or have a distinct culture know what it’s like to be part of that community and what it might take to make for a better life.
Paul was truly inspirational, and he renewed my determination that we really can make integrated and care a reality at a place-based level, in localities, and in our communities. I leave you with a quote that he left us with. It’s from the famous author Henry James. There are three things that are very important in life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. I would add, kindness matters, always.