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A haven for well-being: Bristol’s Bearpit Garden

By Sara Venn

As we get close to World Mental Health Day, we’re celebrating stories from across the Incredible Edible Network which demonstrate how getting involved with Incredible Edible can do wonders for your well-being and for the well-being of your wider community.  We’re convinced spinning the three plates can help create kind, confident and connected communities, as this story from Incredible Edible Bristol demonstrates.

When they first set about designing the Incredible Edible Bristol Bearpit Garden, Incredible Edible Bristol were tasked with several aims; as well as creating a space filled with plants that were both beautiful and productive, the group wanted the space to support health and well-being too.

The Bearpit is a sunken roundabout in the centre of Bristol. If you arrive in Bristol by car along the M32 or by bus or coach, one of the first things you will see is the Bearpit, or St James Barton Roundabout which is it’s official name. It is a transitory space; a crossroads for pedestrians to pass through traffic, busy in their lives and running from one area of the city to another, and on a really busy day up to 20,000 people pass through the space. It’s a space where for several years small social enterprises selling food and drinks have set up home and fed and watered people as they pass through in their busy lives. But it has a darker use and one that the group wanted to support. Bristol, the same as all towns and cities across the UK, has a huge issue with homelessness and rough sleeping, and whilst few people actually sleep in the space, it is a space where people from this vulnerable community meet. And with rough sleeping often comes the issues of addiction, mental health and anti-social behaviour.  So Incredible Edible Bristol set about making a garden that was not just filled with food, but was also calming. A green oasis in the city centre. A place to go to be calm. Not an easy ask when surrounding the space is a busy roundabout where all the main routes in and out of Bristol collide…

However, Incredible Edible Bristol set about creating this space and have succeeded in their mission! Over the years whilst working in the garden, the group have engaged with a huge number of people, from young people who are interested in gardening and how they can get involved, to older folk who remember the dark days of the Bearpit when it was an unsafe space that the city avoided. Everyone is complimentary. Everyone is curious. Lots of folk want to know why they are doing it and their response is always to create a safe, inclusive space in the city centre, filled with plants that are beautiful and productive and where the entire city can feel welcome and surrounded by nature and food.

But best of all is the support that has come from the community that call the Bearpit their home. Whilst admittedly not being particularly interested in the gardening, people all say how wonderful it is to go and sit in a space that is in their environment and has been designed with health and well-being in mind. They tell the gardeners they love to use the garden to sit, to calm down and to just feel a bit more engaged with the world. People say it makes them feel safe and gives them a place to go when it all gets too much. It has also led to more exciting projects looking at how planting and engagement with that planting, whether active engagement or inactive, can create spaces where anti-social behaviour is lessened and well-being increased, supporting good mental health both in the community gardeners and the wider population.

To search for a group local to you, go to our Find a group page.  Or if you’d like to start a group in your local area, sign up to access a wealth of resources in our Getting going section.