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Introduction

In a nutshell

Step one

The idea

Step two

Putting the kits together

Step three

Providing virtual support

Step four

Adapting to lockdown restrictions

Step five

The project blossoms

Introduction

In a nutshell

Who are you?

Chris Folwell, lead project worker at Gateshead Big Local

What did you do?

Helped set up a project that gives out free kits to locals to help them grow their own vegetables.

Why?

To encourage people to grow their own produce and learn some new skills.

What’s the benefit?

It has kept people busy during lockdown and we’ve built a fantastic community of local growers who share photos of their progress on our Facebook group.

Step one

The idea

The veg kits were pioneered by our wonderful horticultural therapist Suzanne Amey, who works part-time for us as a freelancer. We started out with a plan to get local people interested in growing their own produce and sharing their experiences with the community.

Lots of people expressed an interest in getting involved with the community allotment, but with restrictions in place we decided to take the plants to them!

Step two

Putting the kits together

At the simplest level, the veg kits provide residents with everything they need to start growing at home, indoors or out: pots, compost, seeds, canes, containers, grit. They cost about £5-£10 each to put together, which we use Big Local funding for. Some of the packs include a window box so that people without a garden can still get growing their own veg.

To make the initiative as accessible as possible, we ask recipients to make a donation in line with what they can afford. The donations then go back into our community allotment kitty to help support the volunteers who work there and future projects.

Step three

Providing virtual support

Once people receive the kits, they can scan a QR code with their phone that is linked to online instructions on how to get started. We used the website qrd.by where you can set up a code for free service and print it out.

The QR code has been great because we’ve been able to highlight other opportunities to local residents, like events and competitions. We’ve also managed to get more people interested in the community allotment and plant swap shop so it’s been a great way to spread the joy of gardening and growing.

Step four

Adapting to lockdown restrictions

We started the project during the first lockdown, so Suzanne had to hand-deliver the packs to keep in line with government guidelines. Despite the hard work, delivering the kits gave some of the more isolated residents a friendly face to speak to.

Now that restrictions are easing, we’ve been giving the kits out at our pop-up shop, which is a pay-as-you-feel surplus food project, although people do have to register in advance through our website so we can make sure we have enough.

Step five

The project blossoms

We’ve set up a Facebook group where people can share ideas and tips and Suzanne can provide extra support. It’s brought about a brilliant sense of community – especially during lockdown!

The scheme has been really popular and there have even been people from outside the Big Local area showing interest, but we always make sure the kits reach local people first.

I think one of the greatest successes of the veg kits project has been engaging with residents we’ve never interacted with before and signposting them to other opportunities – gardening really is a great way of bringing people together.

Chris Folwell