Health by Stealth and long lasting friendships - what Green Gyms are calling the butterfly effect.

Building community capacity network member Claudia Gold shares her experience of working for The Conservation Volunteers on the award winning initiative, Green Gym. Recognising the value and impact of this programme, Nesta and the Cabinet Office are supporting its development across the country.

"I have recently started an exciting new role working for community volunteering charity The Conservation Volunteers (TCV). The organisation has been running a programme called the Green Gym in 130 locations across the UK since 1998.

"The Green Gym is a free outdoor session aimed at keeping people active and enhancing the local environment. The sessions always include a warm up and a cool down as well as various activities such as cleaning out ponds, establishing meadows and growing food.

"A great feature of Green Gyms is that they are located in the heart of the community. This means that local people are able to take ownership and feel more connected to their local area. Initially a TCV project leader runs the group but usually after 2 years, the volunteers will have the skills to become independent.

"Since starting the role in October, I have attended four different Green Gym sessions across London. What has struck me has been the vast array of stories I have heard from volunteers about their experiences on the programme.

"It would appear that one main reason for volunteers joining the Green Gym is because they feel socially isolated. I spoke to one volunteer whose work is seasonal, and they told me that they would literally be walking the streets if they didn't have this outlet at quiet times of the year. Other volunteers, especially those with mental health conditions, have expressed how working outdoors with nature has had a positive effect on their wellbeing.

"Additionally the Green Gyms are a great free way to keep fit without the pressure of having to sign up and pay for a standard gym. I am a regular indoor gym user but even I found that after 3 hours of gardening I was ready for a rest and welcomed a cup of tea at our break time. Without even noticing it, I had done a fair amount of exercise. One of TCV's long-serving Senior Project Officers likes to call this "health by stealth.

"Volunteers tend to stay for a long time at the Green Gym as they feel they have invested in their local area, they feel included, and have made lasting friendships. In essence it is a simple idea which can be done really well at a local level and one that has so many outcomes. We call this the butterfly effect."


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