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Volunteers taking part in Community Connections food growing project in Luton

Community Connections

Where: Luton

Project type: Community cohesion, food growing, health and wellbeing

Community Connections was a pilot project in Luton created to provide fresh produce for families in need. It encouraged community cohesion, supported young people with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties and provided healthy meals, in an area where many children go to school hungry.

Fresh food

Some fresh vegetables grown at Community Connection projectAn overgrown site was cleared with the help of volunteers from Keepmoat and transformed by  local people into a thriving garden that produced more than a 1000 kilogrammes of food. The Groundwork team worked with groups supported by the British Red Cross, often people legally unable to work until they gained UK residency, homeless charity Signpost, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and also held open sessions for anyone from the local area.

The land for the garden was kindly provided by St John the Baptist Church, Farley Hill which also opened up its kitchen to the project for ‘cook and eat well’ training sessions using freshly grown produce from the site. Other food was given to local food banks that often find it hard to provide fresh food.

Bringing people together

Participants in the project, especially those from the Red Cross group, found it an invaluable way to make new friends and they formed a tight-knit group by the end of the project. Many participants really appreciated the opportunity to be out doing something productive and to give something back. The group brought a wide range of skills, including some members who had farming backgrounds from before they came to the UK while others who shared family recipes; everyone enjoyed learning from each other.

The project makes us busy and it’s good to have a focus. We grow what we eat so we're not buying things – we're taking things from the garden, like onions and cucumbers. I love seeing all the crops that we've grown by ourselves. I enjoyed making a salad and eating the sweetcorn and beans. I've learnt more about gardening through this project as it's different from back home. Coming here takes away the stress and I enjoy it. I like chatting to others and making new friends. – Chrissie, Red Cross participant

Although initially some people in the local area were unsure about the project, once it was underway this soon changed. Residents attending the open sessions enjoyed taking part, meeting people from different backgrounds, sharing tips and even donating food they had grown themselves.

Everyone was really supportive, including the neighbours – no one minded that we made noise when we were mowing the grass and having fun. They even let us harvest some of their spare fruit. - Aqib, CAMHS participant

Health and Wellbeing

Many people taking part from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) group found the fresh air and exercise to be valuable in its own right.

I’ve had a really fun time and gardening is very soothing. It’s made me more patient and helped me understand myself as a person. It’s helped me calm down so I don’t just shout out and do things without any thought anymore. I’ve realised that it’s best to think first, so that you don’t hurt other people with what you say or do. It’s made a difference to the others in the group, too. For example, one of them is very hyperactive but he has learnt to control himself and calm down so he can have a comfortable conversation. It’s a real difference compared to how he was at the beginning. Gardening is a good stress relief. – Aqib, CAMHS participant

As well as this, the project has been engaging local schools to invite them to visit the garden or receive a session on community gardening, food growing, food health and nutrition.

A growing project

With the garden established Groundwork’s team are planning to build on their success and have even more impact. Further projects following this model are also planned for other sites in the area.

Additionally, the project team has established a steering group and chaired the first meeting for the ‘Luton Food Poverty Alliance’ - coordinating the efforts of organisations and individuals working to improve food growing, food health and food poverty in Luton.

Community Connections garden project participant

Young people showing what they have grown at Community Connections garden