Urban Growing

Keeping St Werburghs City Farm volunteers involved with the life of the farm

By Florence Pardoe

Going for Gold Public Engagement Coordinator Florence Pardoe reports on how the team at St Werburghs City are continuing to connect with their volunteers. Read on to find out about their “Windowsill Warrior” kits and “Home Baking Hero” kits intended to bring a little flavour of the farm to home.

For St Werburghs City Farm’s regular volunteers, time spent at the farm goes beyond the therapeutic. For the most vulnerable and at risk, their work, their community and their connection to the land acts like a safety net; it prevents them from tipping into crisis. With this net suddenly pulled from under them, the team at the farm are finding ways to continue to support their volunteers and include them in the life of the farm.

The farm works with around 100 regular volunteers across five groups with various support needs, such as learning disabilities and addiction issues. Volunteers help with animal care, seedling planting, land management and conservation, and more. This is important, practical, physical work, crucial to the functioning of the farm. Volunteers are valued workers. They are learning, connecting to the earth and the community and contributing to this much-loved community asset. Needless to say, the benefit of this to their health and wellbeing is immeasurable. For many, it is the difference between managing the challenges in their lives and finding themselves unable to do so.

Now, as they have lost this lifeline, they may also find their challenges compounded and magnified under the pressure of lockdown. Thanks to the preventative work of organisations like St Werburghs City Farm these individuals are not known to crisis support services. Should the sudden absence of preventative support result in people tipping into crisis, either they will be at risk of not receiving the help they need or support services may find themselves overwhelmed.

Since the lockdown began, the Wellbeing Manager at the farm has been making regular phone calls to the 100 or so volunteers to check in with them, breaking up their day with a good chat, identifying those most negatively affected and, where necessary, signposting to more support. To maintain their all-important connection to the land and the farm, the team have created the Windowsill Warrior kit.

The Windowsill Warrior kit includes compost, seeds and pots to enable people to grow fresh salad and veg at home, crucially on a windowsill as many are in flats or rented property. The kits are even tailored to the groups, with seedlings given to those that might have limited dexterity or the motor skills that seed-sowing demands. They can harvest and eat the plants that can grow indoors, and if they don’t have space to plant out the larger seedlings, the team comes to collect them and returns them to plant up at the farm, where, hopefully, the volunteers will be able to help harvest them when the time comes. Both those at home and those on the farm are sharing pictures, keeping the community connected.

The next scheme about to launch is the Home Baking Hero kits. Local families and volunteers will receive a recipe with all the ingredients they need and a link to a ‘how-to’ video delivered by a member of staff they know. The team plan to make accessible, healthy recipes, and even include living herbs in the kits that can be used, regrown and used again the next time they make the dish.

The responsibility of caring for a living thing, the consistency of continuing their connection to the earth and contribution to the farm, and the genuine care the farm team are showing people through this scheme is extraordinarily powerful. A truly touching example of how food unites and strengthens communities, even when they are pulled apart.

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