Oxford City Farm has a vision of empowered communities learning and working together to produce food locally and live healthy, enriched, and sustainable lives. Volunteers are at the heart of everything they do. The neighbourhoods around the Farm site are very diverse, ethnically, culturally, by age and by income. Some are among the most deprived in Oxford, whilst other areas are relatively affluent. There is limited opportunity for people from different groups to mix. They believe in the great untapped potential of people in the local community to learn from and support each other. Using the farm as a venue they believe we can improve community cohesion and support people to develop confidence, resilience and skills.
“We know that Covid has caused many people’s worlds to shrink significantly. For those who have been shielding or isolated, coming back out into the world can be a scary prospect. At the Farm we can safely help people to begin to re-establish social connections fundamental to mental health and wellbeing. We know that our volunteering sessions are valued and have positively impacted people’s lives during the pandemic. We are determined to grow this provision and engage with more people as lockdown eases.”
Funding in April 2021 from Oxfordshire County Council, Public Health aimed to improve or maintain mental health and raise awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing for Oxfordshire residents.
The NHS and the charity MIND have adopted the evidence based ‘5 steps to mental wellbeing’ that contribute to improving an individual’s mental health and wellbeing:
- connecting with other people
- being physically active
- learning new skills
- giving to others and
- paying attention to the present moment
Grants were awarded based on evidence of these 5 steps and / or the enablers identified in the Oxfordshire Mental Health Prevention Framework 2020-2023. Public Health were also keen to award grants to communities in need and encouraged partnership working.
Oxford City Farm used the 5 ways to wellbeing as a framework for their Community Farming volunteer sessions to enable:
- Connection – their sessions are facilitated in a way that enables people to work together and share experiences that help people feel part of something meaningful
- Being active – they ensure that there are opportunities for people of all fitness and ability levels to be involved in the work of the farm – from gentle weeding to caring for animals or constructing a greenhouse, participation is possible for all.
- Learning new skills – many of their volunteers come to learn more about food growing that is in harmony with nature, all bring a wealth of life experience. Exchange of ideas and skills is actively encouraged.
- Helping others – one of the key reasons people tell us they feel so good about volunteering at the farm is that their work, while benefitting them is also of benefit to others. It feels good to feed the local community.
- Taking notice – being in nature observing the changes that come with seasons, listening to birdsong, or the sheep munching, or chickens scratching, is fertile territory for taking time out from habitual worries or preoccupations.
A £14,768 grant ensures the continuation of and increase access to community farming volunteer sessions, plus staff and lead volunteer Mental Health First Aid training. They also planned to extend their impact through increasing outreach, to currently underrepresented ethnic minority communities, more partnership working and further trustee engagement.
A theme of resilience in the pandemic has come over repeatedly for OCF and is the focus of our longer-term support to the local voluntary and community sector. We are acutely conscious that the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown will be felt by the most disadvantaged. We will be here for the local community to support recovery over the long term. Improved mental wellbeing across our communities is vital to allow us to ‘recover stronger’. By partnering with Oxfordshire County Council, Public Health we were able to direct a round of funding to the huge variety of organisations in the local community supporting this.
It was particularly noted that the grant applications covered the whole life course and many of the projects were based in the top ten wards for deprivation in Oxfordshire, where the needs of the community tend to be highest. Many of the successful projects aimed at building their community assets by encouraging participation in the proposed schemes at an early, preventative stage. Many of them also recognised that being out in nature, growing food, being around animals and connecting with others has huge beneficial mental and physical outcomes for those people taking part.