Bristol allotment helps community with their mental health struggles

By Holly Briant

An allotment project manager kept their volunteering programs open through lockdown for those who struggled with their mental health.

Sol Harmsworth ,41, manager of the Heart of BS13, needed the help of the community to keep the project going and wanted to help those who struggled mentally during the pandemic.

After two years of the pandemic taking over the nation, Bristol City Council’s annual Quality of Life survey revealed a significant drop in satisfaction in the community and their lives.

The results this year show that 30 indicators are worse than last year with 68% of people satisfied with the quality of their life (down from 75% in 2019).

“We had to reduce volunteer numbers due to Covid. It was a difficult decision”

Picture: Sol in the allotment with some of their hampers put together by volunteers.

Sol has been working at the allotment since the pandemic began. Even though the lockdown had slowed down the progress of the charity project, some volunteers were still able to have a place to go whilst the “Stay at Home” message was sent across the nation.

She said: “We had to make the decision to limit our volunteer intake due to how serious it was and the increased case numbers in BS13.

“We kept our core volunteers on because they know what they’re doing and could help with the project, but we also felt that it was beneficial for some people to come and work outdoors.”

Not all volunteers were able to come back to the project during lockdown and Sol herself knew what the impact of not spending time outdoors does to someone’s mental health.

Sol said: “We know how difficult it can be to pick up the phone for help and we wanted people to be aware of that support of the community but a lot of people found it a relief to come out and spend a few hours in the garden.

“It was even a relief for myself and my colleagues. You kind of forgot what was going on in the outside world when you’re working in the garden.”

“I think we have all felt a strain in some way, even with our business. It will have a knock-on effect on people.”

Image: Volunteer working hard and cutting wood for the volunteer day bonfire.

With most restrictions now removed across England, it comes to the questions of what have we learnt and what can we do to recover from what the ONS (Office of National Statistics) are now calling a “Mental Health pandemic”?

The Heart of BS13 project has now called out for more volunteers, hosting volunteer days every month at their expanded space in Hartcliffe City Farm. They want to encourage many people across the South Bristol community to get out into open space after almost two years of indoor isolation.

Sol believes, however, that the strain that has been put on people will have a knock-on effect and everyone across Bristol needs to start having conversations surrounding mental health.

She said: “We need to start thinking about a post-covid society and what that may look like but remind ourselves that there will be people who will still be cautious and have a lot of anxiety around it.

“There would have been people who lost their jobs or are finding it difficult to get a job and our organisation will be there for support and offer funded training, but we are still a fairly small project and can only do so much.”

Quality of Life Survey

The Quality-of-Life survey is in its 22nd year and indicates an interesting picture of how local and national events have impacted people’s lives.

The survey analysed the responses of almost 4,000 people that were randomly selected across the city.

Despite the 7% decrease in quality of life satisfaction overall, results found that with the slight increased percentage from deprived areas, the city is slowly equaling out.

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, concluded: “This year’s results provide us with a challenging an understand picture of how residents feel.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of underfunding from the from the national government continue to have an impact on all of our lives.

“I’m encouraged to see that we are putting council resources where they’re needed most, and our efforts are going some way to making the city a more equal place to live.”

The 2021-22 Quality of Life Priority Indicator results are available now on the council website.

The report will be published in full, including all 190 indicators, in March.

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