Growing Well

By Col Stocker

Thank each and every one of you for all that you have done in helping me since I started volunteering at Growing Well.  Your kindness, patience, good humour and overall support has made such a difference to my life, the future no longer looks black, there is finally light and hope.  Thank you x

“This was from a lady who started with us last June and we continue to be inspired by our volunteer recovery stories, seeing with our own eyes every day the potential for positive and lasting change that can be achieved by working the soil.” Fiona is fundraising co-ordinator at Growing Well, a mental health charity with a 17-year track record of helping adults to better mental health and wellbeing through participation at their six acre organic horticultural and catering enterprise.

Fiona applied to the Alpkit Foundation for help towards purchasing sets of waterproofs to protect beneficiaries from the inclement weather whilst working out in the fields.

“Without decent waterproofs we would not ask our beneficiaries to work outside in the rain, and at times they would be confined to working in the polytunnels. Having good waterproofs enables everyone to work outside in all weathers”

Based in Low Sizergh, just outside Kendal in the South Lakes, people can either be referred by their doctor, mental health practitioner or self-refer. It’s here that they offer a range of supported, meaningful activity and training, all based around participatory work on the field and in the kitchens.

Each year they grow over 15 tonnes of delicious organic fruit and vegetables, and these are available to the local community through their Vegetable Bag (Crop Share) scheme.

Its a fantastic reflection of the commitment and hard work of their volunteers and also plays a vital part in supporting their charitable work, helping around 100 people a year recover from mental health problems by volunteering on the farm and in the kitchen.

“You don’t need a diagnosis to come, just a willingness to picture what better mental health might look like for you and the commitment to work towards it, with our help. Programmes tend to run long term, offering the precious opportunity to reap (and eat) what you sow – a practice that has numerous mental health benefits backed up in research. And – of course – it all takes place in the great outdoors, which is also great for mental and physical health.”

We were delighted to award £360 to help, which when they utilised match funding from the Asda Foundation allowed them to purchase 15 new sets of good quality waterproofs that could be made available to all their beneficiaries. After a few months of getting stuck into growing their scrumptious vegetables, no matter what the weather, Fiona got back in touch to let us know how things had been going over the last year.

“Everyone found the second lockdown particularly difficult and we were once again without our volunteer workforce. Luckily we were able to continue uninterrupted and ensure our Crop Share customers received their regular salad and veg bag throughout the closure. When we re-opened beneficiaries numbers had dropped significantly, however we were confident these would build back up quickly and this has proven to be the case. We know from our annual beneficiary survey that Covid has had a detrimental effect on the mental health of many people and our aim is to be able to help as many people as possible. Fortunately whilst closed we received many new referrals which we have been working our way through. In total we have supported 97 individuals throughout the course of the year.

Another major piece of work that has been completed this year is a feasibility project to assess whether our service might be replicated elsewhere in Cumbria, something we are often asked. So all in all our feeling is that like many, we have endured a difficult year, but we hope to have come through the worst and can soon look forward to more settled times.  One of the more unusual things that happened last year was that the Hairy Bikers spent a day onsite filming here, the programme ‘The Hairy Bikers Go North’ aired on Thursday 7th October on BBC2!”

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