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Spreading positivity through gardening

Oli Austen is encouraging students and staff to try gardening during lockdown

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Oli Austen, a senior technical officer in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, and the founder of the King’s Community Garden, has been sharing gardening advice with students and colleagues, encouraging them to boost their wellbeing by connecting with nature during lockdown.

From sharing guides about planting seeds indoors and creating videos explaining how to look after herbs on our windowsills, Oli has used his role as a Sustainability Champion to share tips and tricks with an online network of King’s students and staff.

‘I looked for things which could benefit you whether you have a garden or not. I wanted to share ideas on how everyday household items and waste could be used to start gardening projects, such as composting and seed sowing’, he explained.

Oli has also been documenting his project to transform his garden during lockdown.

‘Although many of us don’t have gardens and we aren’t allowed outside as usual, we can still connect with nature, which I think is important for people living in cities,’ Oli said. ‘Gardening is a great way to do this, it is a time for contemplation, relaxation and refocusing on more positive things.’

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Lentil seedlings planted by Oli at home

Evidence for the positive impact of gardening is growing all the time. A report by the King’s Fund in 2016 found many health benefits of gardening, including significant reductions in depression and anxiety. The Royal Horticultural Society website also lists advantages like improving cardiovascular health and promoting a healthy diet.

Oli was motivated to provide online gardening advice after witnessing the benefits that many students and staff experienced when volunteering at the King’s Community Garden which he set up on Guy’s campus in September 2019.

Oli founded the Community Garden after his own positive experience of volunteering at Loughborough Farm, a patchwork of community growing spaces in Lambeth. He saw the King’s Community Garden as an opportunity to bring together students, staff and alumni, and to develop connections with our local communities.

 

Since its creation the King’s Community Garden has been tended to by undergraduate and postgraduate students, professional services staff, academics, technicians, KCLSU staff, and even the President & Principal, Professor Ed Byrne. While campus is closed due to COVID-19, colleagues from the Estates and Facilities Teams and dissection lab technicians are looking after the garden in between their work at Guy’s.

The spirit of the King’s Community Garden has continued online during lockdown, with people coming together to swap gardening ideas, such as creating watering can from a milk carton, growing vegetables from kitchen scraps, and even how not to get a gardening injury like Brian May.

Oli has some recommendations for beginner gardeners: ‘Community gardening is a great way to start, as you can share the responsibility with others and there’s lots of expertise there. You can find out about gardens in London from www.capitalgrowth.org. There’s also lots of advice online from places like the Royal Horticultural Society’, he said.

King’s staff and students can get involved with the community garden in the future by emailing oliver.austen@kcl.ac.uk. You can also access gardening tips and tricks by joining the Sustainability Champions channel on Microsoft Teams.

Although many of us don’t have gardens and we aren’t allowed outside as usual, we can still connect with nature, which I think is important for people living in cities. Gardening is a great way to do this, it is a time for contemplation, relaxation and refocusing on more positive things.– Oli Austen, Founder of the King's Community Garden

By encouraging others to look after their wellbeing and taking steps to become more sustainable, the King’s Community Garden is one way that students and staff are supporting each other, and their communities.

During this period of uncertainty and change, King’s is stepping up efforts to deliver on its promise to make the world a better place by continuing to serve our local, national and international communities.

Visit the #ContinuingToServe webpage to discover the many ways in which King’s is making a difference, let us know how you can help or discover existing projects that need support.