Sharing the Harvest celebrate at the Mayor's Parlour

Another successful year of Sharing the Harvest has finished and what better way to celebrate than lunch and a tour with the Mayor?

by Sarah Davenport, Harvest intern

Mayors Parlour To celebrate the second year of our Sharing the Harvest project we were invited to hold a special lunch at the Mayor of Brighton and Hove's parlour for our supporters and the community garden volunteer leaders. 

The three-year project, funded by the Big Lottery's Reaching Communities Fund, focuses on supporting people with learning disabilities or those with experience of homelessness, mental health issues, abuse and addiction to improve their health & wellbeing at community gardens.

The Food Partnership has been helping partners to setup and run gardens in new spaces such as hostels, refuges and day centres, as well as supporting vulnerable people to get involved with existing gardens in their communities.

As part of the project we wanted to prove that community gardens were really making a positive difference in peoples’ lives; so after lots of support from our partners and patience from the community garden volunteers we managed to gather lots of data that has been published in a report.

The data gathered illustrates the many benefits of community gardening, from eating more healthily to feeling better to gaining new skills and confidence. Our hope is that the report will help to raise awareness about the health benefits of community gardening and help other organisations across the country gain access to funding.

The Mayor of Brighton and Hove Pete West gave a talk outlining the importance of our partner projects before taking us on a tour of the council chambers, filling us in on lots of interesting facts about the history and workings of the council. We are one of 27 charities and not-for-profits he has chosen to support through his year as Mayor.

He said:“The Food Partnership is one of my chosen charities for the support and work that you do.  Well done to all the people who have helped pull together the report.”

The Mayor talked about his own ward in St Peter’s and North Laine. He said: "There was a derelict space, a litter magnet which has now been made into a flourishing veg garden. It really brings people together. Now people stop in the street and talk to each other when they never knew each other before.”

However at the Food Partnership we are aware that we only had a small part to play in bringing this report together. It would not have been possible without all the fantastic people in the city working to help people improve their health and wellbeing. We therefore decided to throw a celebration event at the Mayor's Parlour to acknowledge and thank everyone who works so hard to improve the lives of others.

It was great to see so many people from different organisations and roles in a room together. Community Garden Co-ordinators, volunteers, referrers and of course the Mayor; getting a chance to celebrate their collective work as well as hear about the different projects.

Jess Crocker and the Mayor on tour of council chambers

Fran Byron has worked with the Food Partnership with their Fulfilling Lives project for people with complex and challenging needs. She spoke about the project and the effect it has on her clients.

“The garden provides a big open space to undo trauma which is not as intense as therapy. People can go outside into the natural environment. It’s much easier for them to manage and escape to be mindful. It is very special.

“I remember one person who was undergoing eviction after substance abuse. He became a different person out in the group. He was so calm and interested and his personality changed. He was better able to regulate his anger and deal with his substance issues.”

Frans comments echo the findings of the report which clearly show the benefits that community gardening has had on people throughout the city. Volunteer gardener Colin spoke about his personal experience of the Stanmer Community Garden Group:

“I have been coming to the garden for twenty years. I was referred by Care Coops and I was in a bad way when I started. I couldn’t really talk to people.  Working on the garden has given me confidence and helped me to be a better person. Now I can help other people as Jeannie does. Thanks Food Partnership.”

When people gain confidence they often choose to take a leading role in the project that has helped them, however many move on to other projects. Many of the people who play a vital role in referring clients to us came along to celebrate and join in the fun.

Harvest 23 smallThe great thing about community gardens is that people often stay in touch long after they have reached a new point in their lives

Stanmer Community Garden Group Jeannie James said: “We are still in touch with people who love being in the open air as part of a group.  We say to people 'just come to us and be in a safe space'.”

All in all it has been a successful year of the Sharing the Harvest project. We have given advice and support to around 350 people this year about getting involved in community gardens. A high percentage have additional support needs such as mental health issues or a learning disability.

Again we would like to say a special thank-you to all the referrers, community garden co-ordinators and volunteers who support one another in many different ways.