Green Aspirations for AECC University College Campus – Dave Newell

Director of Research at AECC University College, Professor Dave Newell, and Lecturer in Research Methods, Dr Michelle Holmes, have been working with local environmental charity, Your Planet Doctors, in supporting research that aims to measure the impact of a local community project run by the charity helping individuals grow their own food.

Based in Boscombe, Your Planet Doctors was founded by retired GP, Dr Anne Hayden, who wanted to take action to protect the health of our local environment and the planet as a whole.

The charity brings together individuals and groups who are working in local communities to help reduce the impact of climate change whilst simultaneously supporting physical and mental health.

Your Planet Doctors works with another local charity, Grounded Community, which also grows and shares fruit and vegetables; teaches others how to grow their own food; redistributes food surplus from gardens and businesses; and connects networks of people who store and share homegrown food.

Dave tells us more about the work that he and Michelle are involved with, as well as aspirational plans for making our community at AECC University College greener and more sustainable:

Supporting local green charities

“Both Your Planet Doctors and Grounded Community were set up to combat the enormous threat of climate change and to encourage community-based engagement in sustainable food production through education and support for people to grow their own food.

“One aim is to try to remind individuals and communities of the link between food and growing it and help people rediscover how important and how dependent we are on our natural environment. Some research suggests that significant numbers of children, especially those brought up in urban communities, aren’t able to identify common vegetables, or don’t know where products like milk come from.

“Our urbanised way of life now means many of us are increasingly divorced from our environment to the extent that some children simply think food comes from the supermarket.

“The potential consequences are that because we are so disconnected and disengaged from the environment, we fail to realise we need to look after it, because we have forgotten how dependent we are on it. These charities are working hard locally to change this perception and to help communities to come closer together through the shared effort of growing food.

Your Planet Doctors and Grounded Community are also teamed up with Abri Housing Association to try to include as much knowledge and involvement of the local community as possible.

Your Plant Doctors’ specific project involves giving out boxes of seeds, instructions for planting, and offering support for those who want to be involved. The hope is that local communities will begin to feel more comfortable growing food wherever they can – in gardens, in allotments, in window boxes and on windowsills.”

Getting involved at AECC University College

“Having met Anne and talked about the projects Your Planet Doctors are doing we offered our research expertise to help support their project. Michelle and has been working to produce evaluation questionnaires as a pilot study and these are being collected by Your Plant Doctors volunteers. We are delighted to be helping them to generate some impactful research from the project, demonstrating the sense of community that they are creating and why it is beneficial.

“We’re also measuring the health benefits associated with the project; in terms of people eating more healthily, being engaged with green and growing, and the benefits for mental health.

“We aspire to go further than this, however. Having talked with Anne and other contacts she has helped us make in our local community who have expertise in urban farming I would like to see us really utilise the grounds of AECC University College as a potential exemplar of local grown food perhaps even aiming to grow a proportion of the fresh produce that we serve in our campus café ourselves.

“The idea of growing fresh real food for our own community of staff and students, perhaps creating green therapeutic spaces for patients and utilising our wooded areas for wildlife better than we do now fits in with our vison of a more holistic view of health and sustainability. Given the environmental challenges facing us, it seems imperative that we as an institution, where we can, lead such initiatives.

“Presently we are liaising with Grounded Community, Your Planet Doctors, urban farming experts to help us explore these ambitions. We would ideally like to involve our local community and have already talked to our ASU sustainability champion Lina Schultz to help us support students to own the project as much as possible.

“Our ideas so far include wilding our woodland area, perhaps with a wildlife pond and the possibility of making therapeutic green spaces for our patients to use.

“It would be a collaborative effort involving our local community and charities, students and our faculty to green our site and enabling us to become an exemplar hub to showcase the principals involved.

“These ideas are in the early stages at the moment and remain ideas, but we are really excited to progress them if we can. As a health sciences university college, our focus is on helping people to live healthier lives and flourish and you can’t do that without a healthy natural environment that is thriving. What we are proposing to do not only aligns centrally with our institutional values but makes complete sense for our planet.”

You can follow Your Planet Doctors on Facebook here.

You can follow Grounded Community on Instagram here.

Dave Newell

Above: Dave Newell