Grow and Thrive
Our Down to Earth Allotments programme is based in inner city Chelmsford where we run six plots, opening them up to a range of community groups and schools. Most of our young adult volunteers are living with mental or physical disability, and we also use the allotments to engage recovery clients from Open Road (Drugs & Alcohol charity), MENCAP, New Hall School and Columbus School & College, catering for young people with complex and severe learning difficulties.
Currently the food grown at the allotments is shared amongst those growing it as the best way to learn where our food comes from and engage people with the subjects of nutrition and cooking. We also host allotment open days where our growers can sell their produce to visitors.
The allotments are a peaceful and rewarding way to build community spirit and connection with land, food and nature, and are an area we hope to expand and would direct Co-Op support toward. We would also welcome visitors to our allotments to experience for themselves some of the wonderful young adults finding their nature connection there.
- Grow a range of food crops in the outdoor beds;
- Grow fruit and tomatoes in the all-weather poly-tunnels we have erected on site;
- Plant, weed and maintain the plots;
- Participate in workshops to encourage skills development and healthier lifestyles;
- Socialise during lunch and refreshment breaks;
The scheme is open to all and has been designed to be as inclusive as possible, through the provision of raised beds that the elderly and infirm can tend, as well as wheelchair accessible vegetable containers that salad crops can be grown in.
The difference we make
Participation in the local food programme provides residents with an improved sense of community, gives a sense of belonging and inclusion, educates residents about the benefits of healthy living and healthy eating and can improve mood, confidence and self-esteem.
Participants report improved motivation, the development of teamwork skills, a greater awareness of others in need and the opportunity to participate and achieve in a safe environment.
The scheme directly contributes to community health and wellbeing through the provision of organic food grown on site. Surplus produce (not consumed by participants) is donated to the food bank, spreading the benefit of the project even further.
Physical activity like digging and weeding contributes to improved physical health, while workshops and activities such as food preparation and cooking help participants to improve their skills and acquire new knowledge.
We asked our participants and volunteers why the Local Food Programme is important to them. These are just some of the things they told us:
“There are people of all age groups from all walks of life working together. It’s lovely!”
“I’ve learned to be more confident around other people. I have also learned that I can do things on my own.”
“It’s a very supportive group. We all get on well together. We socialise at lunch time and new people are always welcomed.”
“The world goes away when you are here. At the end of the day you can eat what you are have worked for and it’s good for you too. It’s lovely to know the food you take home is chemical free.”
“I would like to be able to come here more often. I would be devastated if the project wasn’t here. I wouldn’t have a reason to leave the house.”
The benefits of allotment gardening
Allotment gardening can play a key role in promoting mental wellbeing and could be used as a preventative health measure. A recent study by Carly J. Wood, Lecturer in Nutrition and Exercise Science at the Dept. of Life Sciences at the University of Westminster found that sessions spent allotment gardening revealed a significant improvement in both self-esteem and mood. Over the course of the study it was found that allotment gardeners had significantly better self-esteem, total mood disturbance and general health, experience less depression and fatigue and more vigour. These findings support our own experience of running community allotment schemes and local food programmes since 2008.
Case Study – Michael
Michael volunteers at the allotment site on a regular basis and thoroughly enjoys his time on site each week. He travels some distance to get to the project, but always arrives with plenty of energy and enthusiasm and ready to get to work. He had particularly enjoyed creating our wildlife pond area, which encourages frogs and amphibians into the area. They are a great natural method of pest control for our organic crops.
Michael tells us in his own words why he enjoys being a part of the Local Food Programme and encourages everyone to “Give it a go!”
The allotment project is open on Tuesday’s throughout the year. Our instructor Jonathan Barker is on hand to provide instruction and tuition in how to grow food organically and our volunteers describe him as an inspiration!