Making our work more diverse: black and minority
ethnic community involvement with gardening projects
Have you ever considered how your project is meeting the needs
of ethnic communities in your area?
This briefing sheet aims to provide the basic tools to get you
started in addressing this important area of social inclusion.
Thrive secured funding from The Henry Smith Charity for a two-
year diversity project aimed at broadening the participation of
black and minority ethnic (BME) groups in social and therapeutic
horticulture (STH). Work commenced in 2004 and is coming to
the end of its second year in December 2005.
The diversity project has followed on from research by the
University of Western England (UWE) commissioned by Thrive.
The research shows that ethnic minority groups are under-
represented in STH projects as staff, volunteers and service users.
A number of barriers to participation have been identified:
· All white staff in projects
· Complex referral routes
· Projects’ reliance on client-linked funding
· Lack of sustainable long-term funding enabling development of
more proactive community initiatives
· Perceptions that BME groups cannot enjoy or feel that it is an
appropriate activity for them
· BME groups feel more comfortable dealing with mental health
problems or disability issues within their own communities
Evidence from the research highlights that there is
· No evidence that people from BME groups dislike gardening
· No evidence to suggest that people from BME groups would
not benefit from participating in gardening projects
Summary of recommendations from the research
· The issue of low involvement of BME groups should be
considered within the context of social exclusion and
marginalisation. This would recognise that the broad issues Thrive Briefing
confronting organisations are not unique, but are similar for all
service providers seeking to deliver services to any socially
· Ensure members from BME groups are included in publicity.
· Link with other organisations who work with BME groups e.g.
Black Environment Network (BEN) and other national and local
· Know the ethnic make-up and diversity of the community where you
A range of local operate.
contacts and · View equal opportunities policies as the starting point for further
networks include: developments.
· Think local – consider the issues and identify strategies that suit
Councils of mosques individual circumstances and local communities.
– in some areas · Network to spread examples of good practice and encourage innovation.
mosques have · Think how to make links with local communities e.g. contacting local
formed local community groups or leaders.
networks. · Consider how to become more visible locally, through presence at local
events, fairs, markets and festivals.
Racial Equality · Encourage referrals of BME clients by telling Social Services that you are
Councils actively seeking such clients.
Council for Two contrasting horticultural projects, RFET (Richmond Fellowship
Voluntary Service – Employment and Training) TWIGS (Therapeutic Work in Gardening in
the local CVS often Swindon) and the Thrive St Mary’s Garden Project in Hackney are engaged in
has good contacts the work. The pilot projects first identified a starting point and an ideal
destination of where they would like to be in terms of diversity. Thrive is
monitoring progress on activity levels, response rates and changes to work
development teams Case studies: Who the pilot projects are and why they have
– some authorities
will have cultural
harmony working RFET TWIGS: In the last two years in particular, because of funding received
groups and/or through Thrive as part of the diversity project, RFET TWIGS have
officers with a strengthened ties with BME communities in Swindon. Success comes from
cohesion remit. committed staff and volunteers outreaching (often out of contracted working
hours) and building relationships with community groups. Seeking out
Inter-faith councils socially excluded individuals who are looking to improve their quality of life
has also been fruitful.
development TWIGS had already started work on improving diversity at the project in the
associations three years prior to involvement in Thrive’s project. This work continued
when it became part of Richmond Fellowship Employment and Training
Learning and Skills (RFET), a charity who had diversity as a major part of its business plan to
Councils will have ensure that everyone in the organisation took steps to improve diversity. The
funded some project is located in an area with no obvious links with BME groups.
providers for ethnic Groups that RFET TWIGS have worked with include Swindon’s Asian
minority Women’s Group, Inter-Faith Group, The Harbour project for Asylum Seekers
achievement and and Refugees and the Sikh Community. Along the way, the project has
therefore will be able gained invaluable advice and experience from BEN and BTCV who have also
to help identify provided both staff and service users with diversity training.
existing providers in
their area. RFET TWIGS has found it beneficial to take a proactive approach in the
services it provides to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity through
posters and positive statements that openly declare its stance. Because of
these positive changes, the project now has four people from BME
communities using its service and three working as volunteers. Workshop
provision is as creative and adaptable as possible, focusing on crafts from
around the world that are intrinsically linked to materials found in ‘the
The experience has confirmed that delivering traditional ‘British’ gardening
activities is perhaps not the best way of meeting the needs of BME Useful Websites
Thrive St Mary’s Garden Project already had a quite broad cultural and ethnic Network (BEN)
mix when selected as one of the two pilot sites for Thrive’s diversity project. www.ben-
At first sight, therefore, its selection as a pilot may be somewhat surprising. network.org.uk
However, as an inner-city project it provides a strong contrast to RFET
TWIGS in Swindon. Furthermore, when at the start of the project the Black Neighbourhood
cultural mix was compared with the borough profile, two significant ethnic Renewal and
groups were identified which were not represented at all – the Chinese and Regeneration
Vietnamese communities. Network (BNRRN)
There are over 200 languages spoken in Hackney and in trying to identify
which four or five the project should use in its literature consideration was Black Training &
given to follow those used in the local education authority building that has Enterprise Group
only been open three years. On pursuing this the advice was that in some (BTEG)
cases other languages were now more relevant! www.bteg.co.uk
The key lesson that Thrive St Mary’s Garden Project has learned from this
project is that there is no quick fix to improving the cultural and ethnic mix,
it is a journey – a process which needs to be embedded in everything we do
and reviewed as regularly as every other aspect of our work.
Facing the challenges – at organisational level Commission for
· Staff turnover – dissemination of the ethos within the organisation Racial Equality
· Lack of funding www.cre.gov.uk
Facing the challenges – at community level Council of Ethnic
· Lack of understanding – breaking down barriers Minority Voluntary
· Lack of trust – clear communication Organisations
· Unsuitability of certain tasks – flexibility and innovations www.emf-
Diversity is important
· Good for society in terms of social inclusion – people don’t integrate The Inter Faith
because they are excluded. Network for the UK
· Good for organisations in terms of skills and experience www.interfaith.
· Good as an instrument to apply for funding for social inclusion (high on org.uk
· Good for the individual.
Know your audience
· Who are the communities? Use local research, plans, census
information, community profiles etc. What are their
cultural/lifestyle/faith/socio-economic traits? Are there any demographic
trends? Who is working with them at present? What activities/initiatives
are already taking place?
· Be clear about why you are targeting these groups, what are your
expectations? Are they realistic? Clarity of intentions is paramount; do
you have any prejudices/misconceptions about the groups.
Good Practice Tips
· Recognise the relationship of people to the environment e.g.
multicultural gardens – the relationship of people and plants
from the same origins.
· Understand the concerns of BME individuals and groups
· Create opportunities for participation by ethnic communities as
an integral part of your work programme
· Recognise the importance of outreach to ethnic communities
and act on it.
· Ensure staff are trained so that they can work more effectively
with ethnic communities
· Ensure effective access to information, resources and
· Not sure about somebody’s culture/faith/etiquette? – then ask!
· Be clear and be aware of your own identity as a tool in your
· Clothing and footwear can be an issue – find ways of
· Outreach – voluntary sector groups, individuals and places of
worship/community centres, schools, colleges, universities,
shops/businesses, local radio, festivals etc.
· Continue the work, spread the message across staff
· Share the lesson and commitment to the work in encouraging
diversity in projects
· When designing the process consider the following: the size of
the community, different languages, the demographic and
socio-economic status, length of residence, urban/rural
location, community organisation and infrastructure.
acknowledges the A range of resources from the following publishers is available in
help of: the Thrive Library, Reading. Please contact the Information Service
Asian Women’s Group on 0118 988 5688 for a publication list.
Harbour Project Directory of Social Change
Sikh Gurdwara Home Office
Swindon Borough Institute for Public Policy Research
Council Inter Faith Network for the UK
This Briefing Sheet is NIACE
supported by The Henry Policy Studies Institute
Smith Charity Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health