Conservation devotees have for years championed gardening as a fantastic way to keep fit, and none more so than environmental charity BTCV. The organisation established its first Green Gym more than 14 years ago. The gyms offer an alternative to conventional exercise by combining physical activity with improving local green spaces. BTCV project officer Lizzy Johnson recently set up a Green Gym in the leafy South London suburb of Penge. I caught up with her to find out how it’s going.
Tell us more about your new project
We are working to transform Winsford Gardens, a small but stunning park that was once part of Winsford House. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Bromley. The aim is for the local community to turn this underused green space into Penge’s showcase park.
What kinds of activities will you be doing?
Winsford Gardens is an inspiring place to work. As a former private garden it has retained some of the original features, such as impressive rose gardens, ornamental beds, lush lawns and a notable (although empty) pond system. During Green Gym sessions volunteers will be restoring the magnificence of the gardens through horticultural work, enhancing diversity in woodland areas and adding meadow habitats to improve wildlife potential. We will also be planting an urban orchard, creating a community food growing area by building raised vegetable beds, and re-establishing the valuable water habitat in the ponds. Sessions are designed to enhance health benefits, so to prevent muscle strain and injury we begin with warm-up exercises, and end with gentle cool-down stretches.
Can anyone join in?
Yes! Sessions are open to everyone regardless of age, fitness or ability. We launched the project in May and had a great turn out with 15 volunteers. The local community has embraced the project and shown a huge amount of support, but anyone is welcome no matter where they live.
What are the benefits of joining?
Volunteers can burn a third more calories in a Green Gym session than in a traditional aerobic workout. We anticipate that 80% of volunteers will report improved mental and physical health, increased social interaction, greater self-confidence, and development of skills and knowledge. People also tend to leave sessions with a sense of achievement at having improved their local green space.
What happens after the community garden has been created?
Penge Green Gym is an ongoing project. The aim is that through BTCV’s guidance this Green Gym will become a sustainable community group within two years, operating independently as part of the charity’s community network. The community group will continue to maintain and improve the gardens for the benefit of the local area.
How do you think this initiative contributes to building stronger local communities in London?
Green Gyms encourage social inclusion, through which future generations of local people are taught about the importance of caring for our environment. Generally, community members will report an increased sense of pride for the place where they live, people will be better connected to their community and more active and responsible citizens. This will, in its own small way, help transform their community into an area where people are happier to live, work and socialise.
How much time do people have to dedicate to a project?
Penge Green Gym sessions are free and run every Wednesday from 11am to 2pm. You don’t have to commit to coming every week, but we tend to find that volunteers return regularly as they enjoy meeting like-minded people and contributing to their environment.
How can we get involved in a London Green Gym?
For Green Gym opportunities check out our website btcv.org.uk. Other London Green Gyms are in Camden, Haringey, Hampstead and Newham. All opportunities are free and welcome new volunteers so come along, get fit and help the environment!
For more information, contact Lizzy on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7278 4294
And for all you kitchen gardeners out there, BTCV has launched a Get Growing App, to help work out how much food you could grow yourself, and how much money you’d save!