A visit up north!

On Tuesday 13th August myself and Emma went up to visit the Growing Well project in Cumbria. This is an amazing project that employs 6 staff members. They run a commercially viable business that supplies vegetable as part of a box scheme, with all the growing work being done by 1 staff member and volunteers with mental health issues. Our mission was to find out if, and if so how, they managed to be sustainable! Our reason for this was so that we could bring this learning back to our own Community Garden here at Fordhall and look at ways of expanding our own growing space. Beren and James the project’s Organisational and Growing Co-ordinators were incredibly open and could not have been more helpful. We started the day in one of their lovely yurts (there are three in total, which are all interlinked); these are usually being used as the base for educational and training purposes. Beren started the day by telling us about how at heart their focus is mental health and growing, with training and education expanding from this. Sadly the project is now less sustainable than it used to be; now 70% grant funded, with contracts from Social Services a 10th of what they used to be. All the people that come through the project start as volunteers, but then have a choice as to whether they want to progress and do horticulture training courses at Growing Well and so become students. Growing Well has set up an interesting pilot project linking with local GP practices, which has been funded by Northern Rock. This has been set up to establish that there is a demand for the service: 50 – 60% of their referrals come through GP practices. James then took us for a walk around the site and showed their potting shed, polytunnels (of which there are several), their outdoor growing spaces and their 2ha of land that is under green manure. He explained about the daily challenges of logistics and getting the work done within a time frame and how he balances this with working with a specialist client group. The project is very clear that volunteers need to make their own way to the project and be there at a set time each day; if they are not able to commit to this it is recognised that the project is not right for them. Since returning from the project we have re-evaluated what we think is possible for us. The learning from our visit was invaluable in making these decisions. We have decided not to physically expand our growing space, but to develop the space that we have in a different way. We have also realised that trying to be financially sustainable is not a task to be taken lightly, and so have decided that we will look towards further grant funding as well as developing outdoor food/cooking courses and educational visits. All that said, we are still committed to developing our growing space as an area to be used for learning; especially for those people who, for whatever reason, are marginalised within society.