Greater Manchester

Personal Story: Julie

Meet Julie Loftus, who’s using her passion for growing to inspire others about the benefits of nature on mental health and depression. 

A huge part of Julie Loftus’ life is now taken up by chairing Community garden group Green Thumbs
 in Brinnington, educating residents on how to grow their own fruit and vegetables, maintaining the allotment and encouraging others to spend time in her beloved green space, but it hasn’t always been that way.  
Brinnington Big Local is a partnership of local residents and partner agencies who share an ambition to make their area an even better place to live, including initiatives like Green Thumbs, a community allotment space which has transformed Julie’s life dramatically in comparison to how it was just four years prior.  

I stayed in for four years. I’d come out at night to do my shopping. That’s how my depression affected me, I didn’t want to have to do my hair or do my makeup. I wanted to just go out, go to the shop, get what I needed, get home and put my pyjamas on – that’s it.

A space for all

Julie talks openly about suffering with depression for a number of years, often struggling to find the motivation to do every-day tasks that involved leaving the house. On one regular afternoon, a friend brought up the new community growing space in the area and encouraged Julie to come down and see what it was all about. A key barrier in the way was the idea that Julie wouldn’t know enough about maintaining an allotment, nor would she get along with those who spend time there, but as she soon discovered, it was meant to be.  

We’re from all walks of life, we’ve got refugees, elderly, children, disabled, in-experienced people, a whole range of the community.

We’ll just meet up here and have a brew. It’s the fact we’re outside and we’re not in our four walls. When you sit and think in the open air and in green space it seems to make more sense, you can work it out better.

Jule Lotus Allotment Green Thumbs

Julie Loftus, Chair of Brinnington’s local community growing group Green Thumbs

Building Community Cohesion

Part of Groundwork’s role is to identify the needs of a community and build its confidence, capacity and skills needed so priorities can be identified and action can be taken in response to them. Julie was soon elected as the chair of Green Thumbs through her hard work in bringing residents together to talk about their issues and concerns, whilst using her new gardening skills to find a solution. 

There is something about the soil. It helps mental health; it diverts your brain. People in Brinnington will talk about having depression and if one of us is down and we know it we’ll sit down and talk to them. We’re willing to talk about the fact we have depression, we have social isolation, anxiety and poverty.

There’s an old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved.


Brinnington Community Residents Allotment

Brinnington residents have found a shared passion for the new green space.

Nature is a healer

Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, 24% of women in England are diagnosed with depression in their lifetime. Whilst the evidence is still young, there are clear indications that spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. 
Julie says that despite now having a clear focus and passion in gardening, she still has her down days;  

Don’t get me wrong I’m not happy go lucky every day, because there are days where I just want to sit on my own. But then there will be other day’s when I think; ‘I’ll nip up to the hub, I’ll get a brew’.

A few months ago, I was really down, and I just said to another lady I’m going down to the gardens, and we both just cleared plots. The pair of us walked out of here as if we’d had the best day ever. It gives you somewhere beyond your own four walls to think.

In 2019, The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, presented Brinnington with his Age-Friendly Award: Neighbourhoods that make Greater Manchester the best place in the UK to grow older. It’s thanks to initiatives like Green thumbs, and strong partnership work that quality of life is getting better, new measures to alleviate poverty and improve our local environment are in place, as well as promoting healthier lifestyles for all local people.  

Andy Burnham Allotment Brinnington

Andy Burnham visiting the allotment after presenting Brinnington with their Age Friendly Award

I love Brinnington, because we’re able to speak out about our problems to each other. Maybe other communities think ‘well you shouldn’t be talking like that’.

  Watch Julie’s Story below:

For more information please visit the Brinnington Big Local website or contact Nina Burns, Communities Manager on 0161 220 1000.