Reconnections in the City
: Exploring the Drivers of Community Garden Participation

  • Elizabeth Bos

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    There has been a substantial rise in the number of community food growing activities in urban environments at an international scale. Thisis situated in a context where social isolation, loneliness, poor health, decreasing levels of wellbeing and neighbourhood belonging are experienced across the population, heightened by city life. The link between community food growing activities and the positive outcomes associated with wellbeing and community life are increasingly being demonstrated, however little is currently known around the processes of participation in these spaces particularly from a UK perspective. ‘Participation’ in general is thought to be a good thing for individuals and society as a whole, and given the rise of community gardening as an everyday practice, and the recognised benefits it produces, further understanding around why people participate is required. This study contributes new knowledge to research on community gardens, by applying a unique conceptual framework informed by literature on community development and regeneration. In responding to calls to better contextualise explorations into community gardens, this thesis proposes an explanatory framework centred on understanding participation as a person-centred situated practice, and identifies influences across various scales. In doing so, a number of key drivers underpinning people’s participation in community food growing projects have been identified. The framework is applied to the case study of Lambeth, an inner-city London borough, where a mixed methods approach combining interviews, a survey, and observations, was employed, which generated data from key organisational actors and participants from a number of food growing projects located on estates and community spaces.

    The data reveal the presence of internal drivers, through the exploration of individuals’ motivations which show how project participation enables people to be more connected to, or embedded in various aspect of society. Moreover, participation creates the ability for an expression of care for others and place, revealing how projects can be a conduit for empowerment, the (re)building of community, and informal, local participation in society, based on a desire for local change. The ‘food’ benefits of community food growing are realised once participation has taken place, through the experiential and expressive aspects of such activity. Exploring the external drivers of participation shows how progressive arrangements, involving partnerships including the public sector, and founded on a knowledge and appreciation of local participatory cultures, can provide the necessary resources and conditions to foster participation, where local key actors are a central factor. The provision of sufficient resource such as project infrastructure, knowledge, space, permission and kudos, is key in enabling people to participate in projects and promotes empowerment for change at the personal and neighbourhood scale. By providing new insight into the reasons why people participate in community food growing projects, the research contributes towards a better understanding of how the development and sustainability of such projects can be supported, thus increasing their potential to alleviate some of the negative effects of city living.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorMoya Kneafsey (Supervisor), David Jarvis (Supervisor) & Kevin Broughton (Supervisor)


    • community food growing
    • community gardens
    • participation
    • progressive-empowerment
    • London
    • governance
    • public sector

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