For Ben Bassingthwaighte, being able to make new friends who share an interest in healthy lifestyles is what local community gardens are all about.
That’s why the Auchenflower local – who has a physical disability and is a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant – jumped at the chance to find out how accessible community gardens are at the recent Neighbour Day Community Garden Forum, held by Carers Queensland’s NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community Program.
The forum, held at the Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha at the end of March, was developed to highlight the importance of connecting with and supporting community local gardens to create inclusive environments for people with a disability.
During the forum, people with disability shared their experiences with local gardens, inclusivity and accessibility in their community.
Representatives from local community gardens, including Vera Street Community Garden and Northey Street City Farm, were also on-hand to listen and discuss implementing policies and programs to build a positive environment for everyone.
Ben said accessing community gardens can be difficult for people with a disability as they may not know what to expect.
“It is always the initial contact, the unknown. Could they (the community garden) accept someone with a disability, would the other members be welcoming, friendly and accepting?” he said.
“Attending the forum, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I came away with a realisation that there are more community gardens out there than I realised. I now know how some of the community gardens function, the activities they hold and there are several close by to where I live.
“My goal now is to join a community garden and meet new friends; one garden representative gave me their contact details on the day which I intend to contact to arrange a suitable time to visit.”
Nathan Freney also attended the forum, both as a nursery business owner and as a person with a disability.
Nathan – who has Aspergers – began Swallowtail Nursery on the Sunshine Coast to get people into nature, no matter what their background or ability.
Nathan said it was important to take part in the forum to get an insight into what community gardens do, as well as share his knowledge as a person with a disability.
“I have now found out that many of the community gardens don’t know how to implement ways for people with a disability to access community gardens. I am basically there to say this is where we should go in the future and this is how we could be doing it,” he said.
When Nathan discovered that many community gardens on the Sunshine Coast were not accessible, especially for people in wheelchairs, he decided to take action by working with Coolum Community Gardens to build wheelchair accessible wicking beds.
“My thoughts with my business is how I can do it through a few other community gardens up on the Sunshine Coast, how we can put it into the frame and how we can make it better for them,” he said.
Convenor of Vera Street Community Garden in Toowong, Ann Bermingham, said she understands the importance of her community garden being as inclusive and accessible as possible.
“It would be great to expand our thinking of that and develop processes that will support that more,” she said.
“As the convenor of the garden, I’d like to be in a position to really be inspiring our members and our existing garden community around this issue; getting people enthused, getting people connected with the idea that this is something that would really enrich our garden if we were opening our arms and our hearts to more people in our community.”
Representative of Northey Street City Farm, Veronica Martin, said she hoped the forum would be a great sharing experience among other community gardens.
“I want to learn more from each other’s experience, what we’ve learnt and how we all deal with different issues,” she said.
Veronica agreed it was important for community gardens to adapt and be more inclusive.
“Gardening has been proven to be therapeutic – there have been studies to prove that. So for me, there is also the mental health aspect of gardening. It is a very powerful thing putting a seed in the ground, having faith in the future, watching it grow then harvesting and eating the food. It is a very deep, human sort of thing.”
Local Area Coordinator, Carlos Estrada-Grajales, said community gardens play a huge role in building positive environments.
“This forum was important as we wanted to know how we could support local gardens to become inclusive for people with disability,” he said.
“It was great for members from Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba and Ipswich gardens to listen to the barriers people with disability face when entering their communities and have the opportunity to have their questions answered.”
For community gardens who want to find out more about becoming more inclusive and accessible, and for more information about how you can get involved with your local community garden, contact Carers Queensland Local Area Coordinator Partner in the Community on 1300 999 636, or email@example.com