The ‘magical’ city farm saving lives in a community

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Swansea Community Farm is, says manager Kate Gibbs, a “magical place” – and one that gives a warm welcome to volunteers aged from eight to 83.

“It’s a place of peace and acceptance, a really safe space,” says Kate, who came to Wales’ only city farm 15 years ago as a volunteer. “People leave whatever’s going on in their lives at the gate and just work together to make a better space in the community.”

Volunteers including people who have suffered trauma, ill health and mental illness, as well as asylum seekers – come to the farm to rebuild their lives and learn new skills, such as caring for the animals. It’s just one of 185 projects at the heart of local communities that Health Lottery Wales is proud to support. Every time you play, money raised goes towards charities to tackle issues such as health inequality, loneliness, mental health and food poverty.

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Swansea Community Farm is a prime example of how such projects can help people live healthier lives. Before the pandemic, it offered volunteers a way to boost their wellbeing and as vital services shut down Kate was able to use money raised by Health Lottery Wales to distribute much-needed food parcels to the community, feeding some 60 people for 35 weeks.

“I’m so proud of how the farm community looked after each other,” says Kate. “It was hard to see the volunteers struggling just as their lives were getting better.

“We monitor our volunteers’ wellbeing, and found that their sense of feeling useful, and connected to others, goes up massively. Coming here is particularly effective for middle-aged men who wouldn’t normally go to therapeutic, sit-down sessions where they’re the ‘patient’, but if you give them a hammer and a drill and ask them to fix stuff, they’re all over it. They’re happy and engaged, and a lot of the therapeutic stuff happens as they start talking.

“There’s something really important about having grassroots, community-based activities, with lots of different projects from sewing groups to men’s sheds. Taking part has such an impact on people’s wellbeing. The more small community-based projects that receive funding, the better.”

More than £120 million has been raised for good causes through The Health Lottery, supporting over 3,200 grassroots projects throughout Great Britain – and £157 million in prizes has been scooped by players. Even buying a single £1 ticket raises much-needed funds. Kate describes the funding they’ve received thanks to The Health Lottery as “incredible”.

“People’s Health Trust, who awarded the grant from the money raised through The Health Lottery, were great as they were really flexible,” she adds. “We planned to take on a member of staff, but they let us divert that funding into the food parcels. It’s life changing for a lot of people.

“The backbone of what we do is having those sort of funders in place.

“We show our volunteers how they can turn what they’ve been through into a superpower – with empathy to help others. The money raised has helped to support people’s mental health and feeling of connection, and combat isolation.”

Volunteer Paul Abraham says, “I love the farm – it’s a great, inclusive place. It’s helped me get my mojo back after a huge change in my life, when I lost my job and was dealing with health problems. I was in a dark hole – at one point I couldn’t see a way forward. I’d always been so busy, but suddenly I was feeling bored and useless because I wasn’t using my skills.

“Volunteering at the farm has helped me climb out of that hole. Now I look forward to Thursdays, to volunteering with my muckers. It’s my day to be me – I’m not a husband, dad, bampy or dog walker; I’m Paul! I’m achieving stuff, giving something back – and now I can help more new people get their mojo back too.”