Enjoying the fruits of creativity, gardening and social contact
Published 5th October 2021
Councillor Suzanne Hartwell highlights the physical and mental health benefits of social contact.
Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for adults, social care and health Councillor Suzanne Hartwell highlighted the physical and mental health benefits of social contact on Friday 1 October, when she hosted a series of plays at the Jubilee Park Community Centre and a tour of the community allotment project at Victoria Park in Tipton.
‘The Park Bench Plays’, performed by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre at the community centre in Tipton, focused on visitors to one park bench who, through their conversations, explore the effects of Covid-19 on them and their relationships. Written in 2020, each play is unique, from comic to serious, from tragic to hysterical and, at times, even celebrate the socially distanced world.
The four ten-minute plays had the audience in tears at times and rolling with laughter at others and, following the performance, they were invited to discuss how the subject matter had made them feel.
The performance at the community centre was one in a series of pop-up shows for ‘The Park Bench Plays’ by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which is touring the production around Sandwell and Birmingham. It has been produced by some of the UK’s biggest writing talents, comedians and emerging playwrights. Each play will be performed by two actors, and each venue will see four of the ten-minute plays being performed.
‘The Park Bench Plays’ is the brainchild of The REP’s Artistic Director Sean Foley and has been made possible thanks to the generous support of The Sir Barry Jackson Trust.
After the performance, Councillor Hartwell led a tour of the community allotment project at Victoria Park, which she runs on behalf of the Tipton Bangladeshi Women’s Association. The allotment project started on a very small plot a number of years ago and through Councillor Hartwell’s vision has grown into a flourishing project.
Along with chickens producing fresh eggs daily, all types of seasonal fruit and vegetables are grown on the plot. There is also a large pond which is home to newts and other creatures. The site includes a large summer house which can be used as a meeting place, as a classroom or even just as a place of peace.
Councillor Hartwell says she is passionate about the health and wellbeing benefits that the community allotment project brings and she encourages community groups to visit, particularly those who would not normally have the opportunity to access an allotment.
Councillor Hartwell said: “People who use the allotment have the chance to learn new skills, contributing to their sense of achievement when they produce fresh locally grown produce. The physical benefits of regular spells of gardening are well documented and physical exercise also contributes towards mental wellbeing – but more importantly for some, the allotment project also offers an opportunity for social contact which helps combat loneliness.
“By combining the experience of ‘The Park Bench Plays’ and a tour of the allotments, we have shown how, by bringing people together, we can share creativity and gardening, so that people benefit from the physical and mental wellbeing afforded by social contact.”
Public Health has contributed £120,000 to the council’s Vision 2030 grants programme in 20/21, funding projects that tackle loneliness and social isolation by building social connections, including:
• Bangladeshi Women’s Association – The Victoria Park Allotments aim to create a new space to connect communities by providing outdoor activities at an allotment site giving residents some much needed breathing space in the fresh air. The project provides an opportunity for residents to get involved and develop a sense of community as well as getting residents involved in soft exercises; learn to eat healthily, help the environment; keep active; and develop intergeneration connections.
• Friends of Tividale Park – Aims to get residents actively involved in developing our park with a view of creating a real hive of community activity to support health and wellbeing by encouraging use of the park. Funding will support purchase of equipment and engage with people of all ages and gender to come together and socialise, with the added benefits of getting active by walking, running, cycling and using the park gym.
Find out more about renting an allotment in Sandwell (the text takes you to the weblink).