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Coronavirus update on our Growing Ability projects

Monday, 9 November 2020

If you've been wondering what's been happening at our Growing Ability projects since we closed the service in March, we have now reopened (in July) and here's an update from Project Manager Liz McElroy:

Never before has our project been of such benefit and importance to so many people in our community. With the life changing effects we have all been immersed in throughout the pandemic, individuals have come together to form stronger bonds of solidarity and register their appreciation towards the continued support and development of our projects.

At the beginning of this year we were running two Growing Ability sessions, one Growing Gang and one Growing Health session and had four staff members. With attendance slowly building at all our projects we had hopes of starting a fifth session in the summer and were offered a third allotment at the Ransoms site (on loan from a supporter).

Then Covid-19 emerged, and as fast as we risk assessed and adapted to new regimes of frequent hand-washing, cleaning and ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’, the virus with all its unknowns at that time, overtook the country. Work from home was imposed, schools closed, and the vast majority of our participants went home to their parents or began shielding in their residential settings.

Our last session pre-lockdown was 11th March 2020 and in April all staff began their furlough leave. Although unable to see each other, volunteers, staff and participants were able to stay connected in lockdown via phonecalls, group messaging and video calls. Volunteers gave their time to sow seeds, write poetry and take photos for those that couldn’t get out and see the allotment and Triangle Garden on their daily exercise. 

When we returned in July, as restrictions lifted, we were able to see the results of all of the dedication and commitment put in by our volunteers during lockdown. We also felt a new connection of belonging; coming back together, becoming stronger through the adversity even though we had not been together physically for so long. This paved a way for an easier transition for our Growing Ability gardeners to return. Fruit and vegetables growing and the sites looking cared for. Members feeling a connection.

Individuals who were isolated and not able to see friends and family have said  how important being back has been and how much they value reconnecting with their friends. 

One of our service users said ‘It is different [being back] as we work outside all the time. I feel safe and I am enjoying having things to do, like when in lockdown I thought that was it, I was so concerned about going out - I didn’t do much or go out. It’s really nice to see everyone. The first week I was quiet - I hadn’t seen anyone else. It feels nice.’ He added that it was ‘emotional [being back] – in a good way’.

The impact of our project has never felt so important.  The connection and support that has been established over the last 10 years has resulted in the ability to go forward to support each other to manage social anxiety as life moves into a new stage.

Since July, thanks to block funding from Herts County Council (HCC), we have been able to restart our sessions incrementally, reducing their duration to allow for the extra cleaning time required and merging our three projects (Growing Ability, Growing Health and Growing Gang) to capture the best elements of all three in each new session.  Some activities like cooking and sharing food are obviously restricted at present. As we are only a small staff team, having ‘bubbled’ sessions has not been possible but we are taking every recommended precaution to avoid transmission. Volunteers are returning now that we are all able to navigate social distancing on the allotment in a safe and confident way.  

Wet weather sessions were previously held inside the Pavilion but due to the ever-changing Covid restrictions, we want to limit time spent inside and have applied for a grant from Herts Community Foundation (HCF) to build sheltered spaces on the allotment in areas not used for growing. 

The shelters will provide protection from the elements and give our projects a secure future. We are encouraging all our participants and volunteers to be involved in the preparation and construction, which will develop individuals’ resilience and confidence. We’re looking forward to being able to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone, a place to heal and recover. Further outcomes we aim to achieve through this project are:

  • Physical and mental wellbeing – year round outdoor sessions will allow us to continue our vital work to improve physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Reduction in social disconnection and loneliness by providing areas for our community to meet and connect through activities, thus reducing social isolation.
  • Sustainability of our projects – The provision of the shelters will enable us to continue and expand the capacity to run more sessions
  • Safe spaces for community activities by others eg Nature’s Rainbow with their dye-plant workshops

As our service shrinks once again with the enforcement of ‘new national measures’ (Lockdown #2) this month, we look forward to welcoming back as many service users as are able to return in December and the New Year. For those that are not able to join us yet we look forward to staying in touch and sharing our news from the allotment.

Liz McElroy,

Project Manager