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Award-winning community group gardens their way to a healthier lifestyle

PUBLISHED: 15:55 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:55 28 November 2019

A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County Council

A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County Council

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A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are transforming Thetford's public spaces - and improving their physical and mental health at the same time.

Gardening, walking the dog or doing housework are all great ways to stay active in later life. Picture: Getty ImagesGardening, walking the dog or doing housework are all great ways to stay active in later life. Picture: Getty Images

Every Wednesday morning, six volunteers from Thetford don their gloves, pick up their spades and head out into the town centre's hotspots to do a spot of weeding.

Known as Sex, Rock n Roll n Weeding, the team work in their communal garden at Butten Island, at the bus station or in various locations around the town where jobs range from sweeping, tidying and clearing litter to digging up weeds, pruning back hedges and planting new, colourful bulbs for the following year.

None of them are experts and none of them are paid, but two hours a week has been all it's taken to notice a big difference - throughout both the town centre and in how they feel.

Caroline Jacobs is a former nurse and one of the six volunteers, aged 60 plus, who lend their services to the town. "I'm not what you'd call an expert - none of us are," she says. "But we all enjoy pottering around in our gardens, and we get a lot of satisfaction from seeing what we can achieve.

A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilA group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County Council

"We have a communal garden on Butten Island and an area at the bus station, which we have just about started to get results at - unfortunately we only noticed when the weeds were waist-height, so it's taken a while to see any progress."

Caroline takes before and after photos to document the group's achievements, and earlier this year, their work won them a volunteers' award at the TARAs - Thetford Awards Recognising Achievement.

The group has formed as a spin-off to The Monday Morning Club, also voluntary and based in Thetford, which won a prestigious silver gilt at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2014 for the 'Flintknapper's Garden', a community garden designed by Luke Heydon and inspired by the town's landmarks.

But for Caroline, it's not just about what the group achieves in the town on a weekly basis - she says that it has been good for her health and wellbeing, too.

Gardening, walking the dog or doing housework are all great ways to stay active in later life. Picture: Getty ImagesGardening, walking the dog or doing housework are all great ways to stay active in later life. Picture: Getty Images

"It certainly keeps us fit. I used to ache when I started - and now I don't!" she laughs. "It gets us out in the fresh air, chatting to people who come into town."

And Caroline says that despite everyone coming from different backgrounds and with varying experiences, they all get along. "We're all very different but we all get on," she says. "We all go out about four times a year and have lunch together at the local pub - it's been a good thing to do."

Gardening is just one of the many things you can do to boost your health and wellbeing, whatever your age. A new campaign from Norfolk County Council, called still young enough to, is encouraging older residents, aged 50 plus, to stay active and make the most of their retirement.

"Keeping or simply being active is important at any age, but particularly so in later life," says Dr Sarah Flindall, a GP from Great Yarmouth. "By increasing exercise, we can start to change the minute fibres and cells that work together to make muscles more youthful. The positive impact on mental health and self esteem which follows regular exercise and achievement may have the most profound impact."

A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilA group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County Council

A recent study conducted by Active Norfolk, UEA and Sport England revealed that remaining active in your 50s can lead to a more active retirement. "There is no one-size fits all approach," says lead researcher, Dr Catherine Salter. "But we found that activity that is combined with socialising, or other purposeful actions such as dog-walking, gardening, housework, childcare or volunteering were all good ways for over-55's to remain active."

You can find out more about Sex, Rock n Roll n Weeding, and see what the team is up to, on their Facebook page.

STILL YOUNG ENOUGH TO...

A group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilA group of green-fingered volunteers, aged 60 plus, are keeping fit and healthy by volunteering two hours' of their time per week to transform Thetford's green spaces. Picture: Norfolk County Council

NHS guidelines suggest that healthy individuals aim to take part in 150 minutes - that's 2.5 hours - of moderate activity a week.

Norfolk County Council's new campaign, still young enough to, encourages older people throughout Norfolk to stay active and embrace a healthier way of life. To find out more about what activities you can do, visit the website at www.norfolk.gov.uk/stillyoungenoughto or follow along on social media at #stillyoungenoughto

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