More than Medicine: improving wellbeing through food

More than Medicine participants

In early May, just as our urban horticulture hub at Woodbank Park was springing back into life, it became home to an innovative new way of linking local food with health and wellbeing. Working in partnership with Alvanley Family Practice and Starting Point Community Learning Partnership, we are excited to be trialling ‘More than Medicine' (now Grow, Cook & Eat) - a model of social prescribing that combines access to local organic veg with cookery, socialising and food growing.

It feels like a given to all of us that gardening, hanging out with other people and eating fresh food is good for you, but this pilot is aiming to prove it and put it on record. We're testing its impact on a range of wellbeing indicators - blood tests before and at the end of the programme will establish whether there's been an improvement in blood sugar and cholesterol levels, whilst the rather academically named Warwick-Edingburgh Mental Well-Being Survey (or WEWMBS for short) will evaluate the project’s success in improving mental wellbeing. We can't wait to see the results.

As I write, we are approaching the halfway point with our second group of participants, who will spend a total of ten weeks taking part in cookery and gardening sessions and receiving a weekly organic veg bag. Whilst we await the medical evidence, anecdotally it seems to be making a real difference. Group member George describes his experience of taking home his first weekly veg bag: “I set about almost immediately peeling, chopping, cooking, timing, then boxing them into my special one-meal containers… it did present me with a super collection of one man meals”. The veg bags and cookery sessions, led by the knowledgeable Julie of Starting Point, are designed to boost confidence and give participants the skills to cook healthy, ‘veg-heavy’ meals on a budget. They’re also proving to be fertile ground for discussions, tips and advice around health, cooking and eating...including how to chop an onion without crying - thanks George!

In the garden we’ve been up to all sorts, and as the growing season has progressed we’ve been increasingly able to harvest and cook an array of organic veg straight from the field, some of which has been sown and grown by the participants themselves. Parsley, courgettes, kohl rabi, summer squash, kale, sage and basil are just some of the crops that we’ve picked, cooked and eaten within an hour! This is one of the great advantages of delivering More than Medicine from our hub at Woodbank. Another is that it’s a place not just of productivity, but of peace, quiet and natural beauty, as one of our first participants describes: “The gardening has been relaxing, mindful and therapeutic… I’ve enjoyed it so much”.

We’ll be running More than Medicine three times during this pilot year, developing and improving various aspects of the course as we go. Our first group of participants - all but one of whom were Patient Health Champions at Alvanley - were fantastic in their willingness to help us shape the course, and some of their ideas and suggestions have already helped us make improvements for our second group. They also provided us with some very encouraging feedback about how taking part had made them feel - “I’ve sent out the invites to my 150th birthday party - say no more!” being one of my favourites.