A service evaluation of ‘The Gardening Group’ at WHALE Arts: Volunteer’s experiences of Health, Wellbeing and Happiness
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The following project was created in partnership with WHALE Arts, a community-led arts charity and social enterprise that acts as a conduit between creative opportunities and the local community of Wester Hailes, Edinburgh. The Gardening Group is a volunteer run group within WHALE Arts through which they engage in a range of growing, planting, and building projects to develop and sustain the green space around the WHALE Art’s building (WHALE Arts 2019). WHALE Arts require routine service evaluation of the groups, programmes, and projects they offer, to maintain effective progress towards their current strategic plan, aims and objectives (WHALE Arts 2019; Twycross and Shorten 2014). This strategic plan runs within the period 2019- 2024 and was developed as WHALE Arts align their work with the UN Sustainable development goals (SDGs) (2015), and Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) (2018). Therefore, the service acknowledged the need for evaluation of the Gardening Group to determine its current performance, and progress towards meeting their strategic aims. Therefore, an evaluation of the Gardening Group was conducted based on volunteer’s experiences of health, wellbeing, and happiness, one of WHALE Arts strategic aims regarding reducing health inequalities and improving welfare in the local community. An online focus group was conducted with five current volunteers, and through use of a general inductive analysis (GIA) (Thomas 2006), five key themes emerged from the data: Gardening group facilitates social interaction, Productivity, Therapeutic impact, Garden Leadership, and Skill Development. 7 Findings were evaluated against the service objectives to achieving improved health, wellbeing, and happiness. Overall, the findings allude to volunteer’s positive experiences of the Gardening Group as a meaningful occupation that promotes positive social connection, physical activity, improved wellbeing, and opportunity to develop horticultural learning. Areas identified regarding the impact of a fluctuating Head Gardener role, lack of access to the group during COVID- 19, or feelings of inadequate knowledge around gardening that results in ineffective utility of resources, were shown to cause some frustration or stress for volunteers. Overall, the evaluation supported the Gardening Groups ability to improve health, wellbeing, and happiness for its volunteers. Hence, it was recommended that WHALE Arts take on board the findings from this evaluation to further development of the Gardening Group to best support the health, wellbeing, and happiness of its volunteers. Moreover, consider replicating this structure for a more robust evaluation of the Gardening Group, in consideration of other strategic aims they strive to achieve by 2024.