How Reynard St Neighbourhood House is helping people connect through gardening

When Reynard Street Neighbourhood House received a 2019 Australia Post Community Grant, they launched a gardening program for their community. As part of our Inspiring Australians series, we talk to Hannah Evans, Volunteer and Training Coordinator, about growing friendships, confidence and delicious produce.

Reynard Street Neighbourhood House (RSNH) is all about creating a respectful, inclusive and welcoming space for the community in Coburg, Victoria. By running events and programs that focus on empowering growth, fun and togetherness, they’re bridging gaps in the services available to those who need it most.

“We run a range of community activities and programs aimed at increasing wellbeing and connection,” says Volunteer and Training Coordinator, Hannah Evans. “We want to make sure that everyone in our community has a place where they feel welcome, comfortable and included.”

The community garden project was the focus of RSNH’s successful 2019 Australia Post Community Grant application. While they already had a regular gardening group, Hannah, who’s also the Community Garden Facilitator, saw an opportunity to develop a program that enabled everyone to get into the garden and grow food.

Hannah says that this was particularly important for members in the community who were socially isolated or living with an illness or disability. She adds that creating a program that made participation possible for this group wouldn’t have been feasible without the grant.

“Our biggest challenge at the beginning was making the tasks accessible and safe. With the Australia Post grant, we were able to fund a facilitator to research and spend time getting the program up and running. And we were able to purchase tools to help with mobility.”

This included stools, kneeling frames and gardening tools with bigger handles and grips. They also had to think about the actual layout of the garden and how everyone could simultaneously work in the space.

“We made sure there was enough space between the rows, so people could access the plants with a wheelchair or walking frames,” Hannah explains. “When you have different kinds of plants together and at different levels, it takes good planning to make sure that the space is as safe as possible for people to move through it.”

Hannah adds that the group’s diversity made it important to have an overall framework on running the program and sessions, but they also made sure they were flexible to adapt where necessary.

Growing community connections

Connection was the theme of Australia Post’s 2019 Community Grants Program, which aligned closely with RSNH’s vision.

By offering people the opportunity to connect through group activities, they were able to reduce barriers to participating in community life. It also gave program creators and volunteers the chance to develop critical leadership skills that will benefit the organisation in the future.

“The program has been quite popular, and we've had a lot of good feedback. I think the people who have been coming to the garden really get something out of it and there have been friendships built. It's been really positive.”

The program runs weekly sessions and can accommodate around 20 people at a time, including support workers, partners or friends.

“We do four hours of gardening on a Friday, and halfway through we break for lunch. We get to eat some of the stuff we've grown, but also just talk and connect.”

This connection proved to be particularly powerful during the COVID-19 pandemic when restrictions prevented the program from running at the same capacity. Some people couldn’t come to the garden at all. But the friendships they had made kept them connected during their time of isolation.

“These are real connections and friendships from people who wouldn't necessarily have crossed paths. It also gave people something to look forward to,” Hannah says.

“It's a positive thing to think, ‘our garden is still growing, and my friends are going to be there when we get back’. So just having that ongoing connection and something positive to talk about and focus on was really helpful.”

Planting more than just food

A lover of gardening herself, Hannah wanted to bring its positive impacts to more people, including the social benefits of a community project.

“You're not only learning how to grow your own food, you're exercising, you’re outdoors in a nice environment, but you're also meeting new people and sharing ideas.

“At the beginning people were a little bit shy, especially if having a disability made them doubt they could do gardening. But now, there are really good relationships and friendships in the group. Everyone's really happy to see each other when they turn up on Friday morning.”

The garden program also coincides with RSNH’s food program, where the food grown is shared among the community. Before COVID-19 this meant gathering for buffet style community lunches.

“There's a sense of pride and achievement, because you get to see people eating the food that you helped grow,” Hannah says.

The Australia Post Community Grants program supports local organisations that are making a difference in their local communities. It’s yet another way we connect Australians across the country.

Our 2021 Community Grants are scheduled to open in June 2021.
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