A recent podcast was produced between Wayne and Valerie Gladwell from the University of Essex. Listen here.

Together we Grow CIC is a Social Enterprise based in Colchester, founded in October 2017 by Wayne Setford. Its aim was to improve the lives of communities and individuals through encouraging engagement with nature and educating people on how to grow their own food to help lead a healthier, happier and sustainable life. Preserving and enhancing their HQ, now a thriving two-acre community garden in High Woods Country Park, was also their goal, due to threat of closure.

Fast forward through a very busy 3 years, the organisation has gone from strength to strength, working with local primary schools, children leaving care, children not in mainstream education and adults from the age of 18 experiencing poor mental health. During the Covid-19 national lockdown, Wayne and his team of community volunteers wanted to support local communities by helping them maintain both positive physical and mental health. After receiving an Essex Local Delivery Pilot micro-grant, the ‘At Home’ project was set up.

The project saw over 150 participants join in this summer, from school children and the whole family, to a large refugee community group working alongside Refugee Action Colchester; all receiving a starter pack of seeds, compost and short informative videos and weekly support zoom calls on how to plant and nurture the seeds.

Wayne commented; “Our approach has always been to connect people to nature and each other, giving them a living ‘thing’ to look after, improves their mood. People were feeling lonely, socially isolated and in danger of a mental and physical health crisis but getting them outside into the garden makes a huge difference to their general wellbeing. Connecting participants digitally to others with a shared goal, created a new support network, community links, shared allotments and excess foods to share. The ‘At Home’ project enabled them to flourish.”

As a result of this project, members have developed an appreciation of home grown produce and now have a better understanding of a healthy balanced diet, through cooking sessions organised by Together we Grow. Getting outside in the fresh air and having something to look after boosted morale, and gardening in local communal areas or at home offered a light form of physical activity, which had positive mental wellbeing effects. A celebration gathering in September further solidified their new support networks and formed friendships and taught them new cooking skills with the produce they had grown.

Mohammed, a participant said; “I would like to thank the organisers for this initiative that allowed us to interact with nature and have a sort of stress relief. We found the various events helpful to us during the days of social isolation. My children enjoyed the different activities such as watering the plants and picking from others. The celebration was fantastic.  We spent memorable times with friends and also new people, it was a lovely day.”

If you would like to get involved in the Together we Grow at Home project, please click here.