Case study: Grow Well Cardiff

Tending Good Health Through Community Gardening

Introducing Grow Well Cardiff

Grow Well is a partnership between non-profit Grow Cardiff and the NHS. Grow Cardiff supports people across Cardiff to create and sustain community gardens. The Grow Well project allows GPs at 11 surgeries to socially prescribe activities at two community gardens to patients they think may benefit. Grow Well has been supported by the Welsh Government’s Innovate to Save programme, which offered grant funding, non-financial support and access to unsecured, interest-free loans for new ideas with the potential to generate cost savings and improvements in Welsh public services.

How does Grow Well work?

The project allows GPs, primary care staff, in-house social prescribers and community health partners such as drug and alcohol recovery services to prescribe activity at two Grow Cardiff community gardens to any patient they think may benefit from the physical activity, social contact or therapeutic and health benefits of food growing. Activities include things like weeding, watering, harvesting, creative arts and crafts, making raised beds and digging ponds. If prescribed, patients join other patients and participants involved with the garden.

Once patients enter the garden gate, though, they become ‘volunteers’. Grow Well asks volunteers what they would like to do and help with, as opposed to what they need, or what problems they wish to address. Activity is framed positively. Grow Well finds this ‘asset-based approach’ is key.

It allows Grow Well to still meet needs and help with problems, whilst emphasising that everyone has something to give and share, and that there is an equal playing field between the newest volunteers and staff members. All are welcomed and valued.

Combined with the social interaction this entails, community gardens are designed to realise health and wellbeing benefits, along with cost savings, based on insights that: 

  • Interaction with nature brings various wellbeing benefits.
  • Growing food results in health benefits and a deeper connection to the land.
  • People with mental and physical health conditions face higher barriers to social activities.

What impact is Grow Well having? 

In the context of rising cost pressures on the NHS in Wales, Grow Well has shown promising shoots of social and economic impact. There are some caveats, though. Firstly, the Innovate to Save timescale didn’t align effectively with the seasonal nature of community gardening. With less gardening take up, this meant the sample size was small. The pilot study was also short, limiting how robust the findings are. With that said…

Pre and post surveys indicated an improvement in wellbeing

Interviews indicated increased physical activity and fruit and veg intake

Interviews suggested reduced isolation and improvements in social connectedness

After the project, participants reported feeling more relaxed, useful and optimistic about the future

Estimated savings on statutory services per person, based on Welsh Government figures

What have we learned from Grow Cardiff?

A few things really stood out to us about Grow Cardiff about how to design for relationships: 

Public spaces are often important in facilitating new relationships, and different types of space have different effects
The impact of Grow Well relies not just on social interaction and activities, but also the environment in which they are undertaken. Being outdoors, such as in a garden, is shown to have particular psychological benefits that may not be realised in other communal spaces.
Mutual relationships help improve wellbeing
Encouraging mutual relationships, in which both parties have agency and value, is an effective means of generating improved wellbeing. In Grow Well’s case, participants reported feeling more useful and therefore valued through their gardening work, given Grow Well’s asset-based approach, just as their work benefited others. This also points to the fact that …
Skills and training can help cultivate meaningful relationships
Shared activities are valuable for generating social capital, partly because they do so indirectly. The focus on learning gardening skills doubles in Grow Well as a growth in social capital. Supportive relationships don’t necessarily need to be labelled as such.
A better use of resources beats more use of resources
We’ve tried to select case studies, Grow Well being an example, that show how a reallocation of resources – in this case from statutory services to community gardening – can result not only in greater wellbeing and social contact, but also cost savings.

Want to know more?

What’s next for Grow Well Cardiff?

The Grow Well project continues to receive support from the Southwest GP cluster in Cardiff. The team is looking to refine its impact model, develop closer links with the social-prescribing movement and expand the project’s reach to include the wider community, e.g. by welcoming families from the local school and people from local community centres into the gardens to work alongside the volunteers.

Further reading


  • Nesta introduces the project here.
  • Nesta has also published an impact summary of the project