A haven of green space: learning from a pilot pre-post evaluation of a school-based social and therapeutic horticulture intervention with children

BMC Public Health. 2018 Jul 5;18(1):836. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5661-9.


Background: Research suggests outdoor activity in green spaces is important for children's mental, emotional and social wellbeing. A recognised green space intervention is "Social and Therapeutic Horticulture" (STH). We discuss findings from a pilot STH intervention, "A Haven of Green Space" conducted in North West England. The target group were school children aged 9-15 years experiencing behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. This exploratory study aims to assess the mental wellbeing of the children pre- and post-intervention, and assess the value of the evaluation methods and "Five Ways to Wellbeing" evaluation framework.

Methods: The intervention involved 6 monthly sessions with two horticulturists and a psychotherapist. Sessions were participatory with the development of selected greenspaces at each school directed by the children. Evaluation was situated in the "Five Ways to Wellbeing" framework, using a mixed-methods pre- post-evaluation design. Existing public mental health evaluation methodologies were adapted for use with school children: Mental Well Being Impact Assessment (MWIA) and Wellbeing Check Cards. The MWIA was analysed qualitatively identifying over-arching themes. The quantitative wellbeing check cards were analysed by mean score comparison.

Results: Results were collected from 36 children across the three participating schools, and suggest that the Haven Green Space intervention was associated with improved mental wellbeing. MWIA factors relating to mental wellbeing ("emotional wellbeing" and "self-help") were positively impacted in all three schools. However, findings from the wellbeing check cards challenge this, with worsening scores across many domains.

Conclusions: A key study limitation is the pilot nature of the intervention and challenges in adapting evaluation methods to context and age-range. However, results indicate that group based socially interactive horticulture activities facilitated by trained therapists are associated with positive impacts upon the mental and emotional wellbeing of children experiencing behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Further research is needed to verify this, and to support using the "Five Ways" in intervention development and evaluation. Finally, we recommend continued efforts to develop age-appropriate evaluation methods.

Keywords: Behavioural, emotional and social problems; Children and young people; Community-based; Greenspace; Mental health and psychosocial wellbeing; Mixed-methods; Pilot intervention; Schools; Therapeutic horticulture.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • England
  • Female
  • Horticultural Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Program Evaluation
  • School Health Services*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Social Behavior Disorders / therapy*