As spring has arrived, people across the UK are being urged to become ‘Local Heroes’ by taking action to support community growing groups in their neighbourhoods, many of which face a struggle to make ends meet.
Professional gardener and BBC broadcaster Christine Walkden has kicked off the 12-month campaign with a new video encouraging people to step up and become ‘Local Heroes’ by getting involved with their community farms and gardens as visitors, customers, volunteers or business partners.
I spoke with Christine who is just as enthusiastic and inspiring as she appears in her many television and radio broadcasts. Her love of getting her hands dirty and the delight she and others get from watching something grow from seed is infectious and she told me how she first got interested in horticulture at the age of 10.
She said: “As a youngster my local heroes were the old chaps on the allotment site who came over to me regularly and said “No, you don’t do it like that, you do it like this…”.
Without them, I would probably never have enjoyed the life I have of growing crops. That was when I first realised the enormous rewards of taking action and helping each other.
Growth through digging in
We can all grow through digging in, even if it just to help out and make the tea. I see volunteers grow and bloom as much as the plants.”
Together with Katie Rushworth, presenter on ITV’s Love Your Garden, and TV chef Mark Greenaway, they are calling on people to take simple actions to help protect the financial future of their local growing groups – from regularly buying fruit and vegetables or attending events and workshops, to donating time, skills or becoming a sponsor.
It is estimated there are more than 2,500 community growing groups in the UK helping to make their neighbourhood a better, healthier, friendlier place. These include city farms, community gardens, community orchards, therapeutic and children’s gardens together with many other sites cultivated by local residents. Most rely on voluntary support and need more help to thrive, particularly as less local authority grant funding is now available. According to a recent survey, nearly half of the community growing groups questioned regularly operated at a loss and the majority felt the success of their project relied on grant funding.
Mark Greenaway, owner of Edinburgh’s award-winning Restaurant Mark Greenaway, said: “I think it’s incredibly important to support local growing groups and farms. As a chef I always want fresh seasonal ingredients, and local produce by its very nature is seasonal and great for the community. It gives people a real sense of responsibility and pride when something grown locally graces their table. All it takes to support your local group is something as simple as buying a veg box from a local allotment or farm.”
The campaign is also encouraging businesses to get involved by forging partnerships with local community growers through sponsorship, donations of equipment or skills and landowners can play their part too by turning over neglected land to a community group for cultivation.
Katie Rushworth said: “Living in a small Yorkshire village I see the vital role on a first hand basis that local businesses play in supporting local growing communities. We are lucky to have a community garden near where I live and every year our community gets together to transform the local flower beds, containers and hanging baskets. This can only happen because of the help of local business funding and volunteers dedicating their time to give something back to the place in which they live. This whole process fosters a greater sense of community and sense of pride in where you live.”
The Local Heroes campaign is part of Growing Together, a Big Lottery-funded project led by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG), which is leading the year-long national campaign as part of its work to help bring financial sustainability to the UK’s network of community growing groups. Membership of the FCFCG is now free for all such groups.
To find out more about how to become a Local Hero, contact your local growing group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.growingtogether.community.
If you need a telephone number the best number to contact is 0117 923 1800 but bear in mind they are a small charity, so don’t have the resources for a dedicated line for the campaign. This is the number of the head office.
By Christine Parkinson