Green Synergy is a community-based charitable organisation based in Lincoln which uses community gardening and horticultural therapy to improve the lives of local people.

The organisation works in communities with vulnerable people including those living with mental health conditions, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, long-term health problems and unemployment. Green Synergy runs three community garden projects, using gardening and city farming to develop the skills and capacity of people in socially and economically disadvantaged communities to allow them to identify and help meet their own needs.

In March 2017, Green Synergy was awarded a grant from the Bright Ideas Fund to explore the viability of a community garden hub – a beautiful, accessible space that will allow further development of Green Synergy’s work. After exploring feasibility of one site another opportunity arose, and they were granted a lease for 2.5 acres of derelict land behind Lincoln County Hospital, a former allotment site covered in 30 years of brambles and waste.

Together with the community, the hospital, schools, businesses and voluntary groups, Green Synergy is working to transform the space with the aim of adding therapy animals and an eco-building further down the line.

Green Synergy benefited from ‘critical friend support’ through Bright Ideas, which involved sharing learning with another Bright Ideas funded project in Worksop with similar outcomes. This support allowed for a more flexible support approach which saw an effective and trusting relationship established between staff and trustees.

How did they do it?

The grant was used to create building design drawings initially for the first location, which were then adapted for the new location, as well as covering legal advice fees for the lease, some staff costs and staff/trustee educational visits.

Hillside Community Garden officially opened in June 2019, complete with a peace garden, a therapeutic garden (which is being used for its Better Together’ therapeutic horticultural project), a productive area where they are harvesting fresh produce – some of which they are supplying to local community cafés – and a heritage orchard growing old English cherries and traditional Lincolnshire varieties of apples and plums.

In March 2018, they were donated a 40ft shipping container by Spouge Farms and Denby Transport which they are working on turning into a tool store and workshop which in turn could be used for new activities such as repairing tools and producing garden furniture.

Green Synergy are now focusing on becoming less grant reliant and develop new ideas to generate income, including growing the consultancy offer such as therapeutic garden design; increase the usage of the gardens linked to specialist audiences; premium experiential days at the garden involving animal care; growing to sell high-end novel crops; include a livestock paddock and small woodland which could offer small-scale animal husbandry/therapy additions, and fundraising through creative approaches to raise income but also the profile of the organisation.

As well as the various opportunities the garden has created for local people, it has also had its fair share of fame too as the chosen location for BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time in September 2019, as well as appearing on BBC One during the Children In Need campaign in 2018 with members of their Tower Power project that supports children and young people.

What is their social impact?

Green Synergy runs sessions through the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) MOVE project, led by Lincolnshire Voluntary Centre Services and funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund, which works to engage with people who are not in education, work or training and are experiencing barriers to health. Through gardening and landscaping sessions, they are given the opportunity to gain practical gardening skills and experience in a caring, inclusive setting with one-to-one mentoring and advocacy support.

The Steps Forward project is similar to MOVE – but it supports people who are economically inactive and are less ready to able to work, offering them individual, bespoke volunteering opportunities designed around the individual’s specific interests and needs.

Green Synergy’s plans continue to evolve with new ideas from participants and, to some extent, the natural materials found on-site are playing a role – Hillside was once a quarry and so is yielding some pieces of limestone that they are using to create dry-stone walls, seating and water features, whilst off-cuts from overgrown trees create log edging for pathways, taking away the need to buy and use new materials.

How is it community led?

Initial consultation with the local community revealed a need and interest for more green space and community gardening projects, which led to the birth of Green Synergy. It has taken the efforts of multiple groups in the community to set up three community garden projects within a two-mile radius, plus their newest hub at Hillside. Local residents, community groups, local businesses and even staff from the neighbouring hospital all helped to create a space that is now a valuable resource for the whole of Lincoln.

“Prior to joining the project, I was suffering from alcohol and drug dependency, which was partly due to a lack of having something to do. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating. Since joining I’ve found myself waking up early in the mornings with a sense of purpose. I have always enjoyed gardening and wanted to become my own boss running a landscaping business. The project has given me the self-confidence to know I have still got the skills to work in the industry and to start applying for jobs again, taking me a step closer to my dream.”

Phil, BBO participant