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Spending time in a positive social environment is one of the underpinning principles in STH and research has shown STH to have positive impacts on loneliness and isolation.

There are many anecdotal records of the social impacts of short-term STH programme, particularly those designed to address isolation and loneliness, continuing to benefit participants after the programme has ended. This often arises from the increased confidence of individuals to engage in social activities and the development of an interest in gardening that can be shared with others, such as family and friends. We also often hear of groups who have continued to meet informally once the formal programme has ended, providing support to one another and creating a new community resource that promotes wellbeing.

Thrive’s Community Rural Gardening project (2010 – 2013) comprised eight consecutive weekly two hour gardening sessions for older people over 50 across Berkshire, Hampshire and South Oxfordshire, living with a disability or in social isolation, with the aim of helping them to develop skills, social networks and self-confidence through gardening activities; the project reached 554 participants covering a wide range of physical disabilities and emotional needs. Evaluation of the programme found that 64% of participants felt less isolated and socialised more with others and 54% developed a shared interest in the wider community; 53 individuals had ben enabled to move into volunteering roles and become active members within their local community. The study concluded that: “The project has helped participants improve their social networks, meeting new people through gardening as a common interest. This has brought isolated and vulnerable people together, breaking down social barriers and differences; it has helped them gain a connection to the wider community. It has raised people’s awareness of other local projects and activities they can become involved with in their local community. It has inspired others to become volunteers within their local community.”

The Ecominds project included the ‘In-depth’ studies with a total of 287 participants from nine projects representative of all projects part of the scheme. These provided good evidence for increased community participation: “At the start of the programme, many participants said that they did not feel they belonged to their community but by the end of the Ecominds scheme, the opposite was true, with the majority (59%) saying that they did feel they belonged to their immediate community. … When participants were asked how many times in the last year they had helped with or attended activities organised in their local area, 81 per cent showed an increase in the frequency of getting involved in community activities after being involved with the Ecominds scheme.”