Meet the team: Swansea Community Farm
Swansea Community Farm is a community led charity set in 3.5 acres of land. We are unique: the only city farm in Wales. Our site was built and is farmed by volunteers, and hosts a range of rare breed farm animals, allotments, wildlife areas, bee hives and training kitchen and café. Every year we work with hundreds of people, aged 8 to 80, to provide life changing volunteering opportunities, practical training, and play activities.
The Farm serves one of the most deprived wards in Wales. The people we work with are diverse but overwhelmingly vulnerable and from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of our volunteers have experienced mental health issues, long term unemployment, low incomes, disabilities or social isolation. The Farm’s programmes built around animal care, growing and cooking healthy food, conservation work and connecting with nature have a track record of improving health and wellbeing, enabling people to build skills for employability, and bringing people together to create a resilient community.
There has been a strong desire from existing farm users who have benefitted from coming to the farm to give back to the community and support others to benefit – especially in terms of the improvements to mental health and wellbeing they have experienced. It has been truly transformative for many with one respondent to our volunteer’s questionnaire saying that he was ‘deeply depressed before coming here and regularly thought about ending my life’.
This year we were successful in getting two years funding to develop a new role of peer supporter or mentor into our volunteering programme. This project called Calon Farm (Calon means heart in Welsh) will train and support 20 Muckers (a Swansea word for friend) who will explore and develop ways of supporting their own and others health through training in mental health management skills (e.g. mental health first aid, gratitude practice, mindfulness) and practical outdoor work and skills sharing to create a ‘men’s shed’ type community. Muckers will work together to embed understanding of wellbeing into Farm life so that events, training, volunteering and interpretation reflect how playing, learning or volunteering in green spaces can be utilised to improve and manage health conditions.
Muckers will advocate for talking openly about mental health and what they have found effective in maintain their own wellbeing by attending events, appearing in the media, networking and partnership meetings to publicise and promote this strengths-based approach as well as being peer mentors with a focus on improving health and confidence for new volunteers.
Muckers will be people from all walks of life that have personal experience of mental health issues and have worked towards their own recovery. They will be trained to offer empathy, support and guidance to those in similar situations and instruct them in both Farm practical skills and mental health self-management skills.
The Farm was the subject of a Health Impact Assessment in 2015 to attempt to identify some of the key health benefits our volunteers report and the Farm environment was found to be particularly beneficial as it provided ‘Self-belief and achieving goals. A sense of achievement through producing something tangible’ and that this effect was particularly important for men who are traditionally reluctant to access talking therapies.
The farm has good monitoring systems and also regularly communicates its impact through the use of case studies, photos and video (See link below). However, the farm has an ambition to strengthen the measurement and communication of its social, health and wellbeing impacts but needs investment and support to do this. Many small charities change people’s lives, but lack the infrastructure, funding, staff time and investment to measure and demonstrate the outcomes they achieve and to communicate these in a way that speaks to health and social care commissioners.
We would really welcome support from the Q community to invest in our ability to “measure what matters”. Funding from Q could enable us to:
· Work with a researcher to develop an evaluation study of Calon Farm peer support programme and select outcome measure that are suitable for the work we do and that we can embed in our routine data collection.
· Invest in our infrastructure e.g. a new data base and data collection methods to make the gathering and analysis of data more efficient, robust and accessible,
· Engage our peer support project in sharing learning with other peer support programmes
· Communicate our impact more clearly and widely
In return we are very open to sharing our expertise in volunteer training and management, community engagement, therapeutic work with animals, gardening and conservation work for wellbeing, working with the third sector.
Note; my role with the farm is as a volunteer – I am a Trustee and Chair of this charity. I have a long standing professional interest in the role of gardening and nature in improving mental wellbeing and recovery. My first “improvement project” as a nurse was an allotment project for homeless people with mental health problems who were being re-housed in new communities in 1998!
Please look at the farm website, face book pages and you tube channel for more information
How you can contribute
- Links to researchers with the right expertise and interest
- Support with communicating our impact to commissioners
- Expertise on developing our data management systems so we can be more efficient in reporting outcomes.
- Networking and sharing learning with projects with similar aims