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GC’s three-year Lottery-funded Grown in Dagenham programme comes to end this month. It has been a huge success and we have learned a lot about fostering community and inclusiveness while giving people essential skills and most importantly support that has genuinely changed their lives.
Over the three years of the programme, hundreds of people have improved their physical and mental health and well-being.
The Big Lottery grant of £225,000 over three years funded new jobs at the farm including Hannah, our food activities worker, and Lucy from January 2016 to July 2017 as our education worker followed by Michèle who took up the post in July 2017. All three have done amazing work.
Lucy and then Michèle ran weekly school food-growing and cooking sessions for 60 students each year from the local primary school, William Bellamy, plus weekly sessions for assisted learning students from Barking and Dagenham College.
Lucy ran an after-school food-growing club for parents and children and a holiday food-growing club, Growing on Holiday, for young people aged 9-15 who made and enthusiastically ate lunch made from fresh farm produce. Michèle continued this work and consolidated our relationship with the school and college students.
Hannah chiefly worked with our food production trainees – 11 in total over the three years – all formerly unemployed and mostly lone parents. They learned how to grow food and how to use that produce to make Grown in Dagenham products. Together they developed recipes for Grown in Dagenham Tommy K Ketchup, the Cheeky Chutney that some of you will find in your veg bags this week, and delicious concoctions such as rhubarb and chai jam and strawberry and elderflower jam.
The trainees also learned how to market and sell their food – this year taking turns to run a weekly stall at Dagenham East tube station selling produce and preserves from the farm.
One trainee described how different she felt after taking part: “My experience has been fantastic – I enjoyed it a lot! I feel more confident and I’ve got lots of experience. I need to say thank you to the farm because they gave us this opportunity. We can think what we never thought before.”
Hannah also oversaw our volunteer programme, welcoming over 150 volunteers in the past three years to work at the farm on Wednesdays and enjoy a shared lunch or visit on Open Farm Sundays. Lottery funding enabled us to welcome volunteers with mental health issues as part of the programme, many of whom noticed distinct improvements after visiting the farm. One said: “100% this helps with anxiety, it’s better than any tablet or therapy.” Another said: “It’s about socialising and getting out of the house – that’s so good for you.”
But the end of the GiD programme does not spell the end of community involvement at the farm. The food growing will carry on. Volunteers will continue to be welcome every Wednesday from March. The stall at Dagenham East will be back in the summer selling farm-grown organic produce.
And next year, Kerry, who designed, fundraised and coordinated the GiD programme, will be pooling everything she has learned over the past six years since the farm opened to prepare another bid to increase Dagenham Farm’s positive impact on the local community.
In the meantime, the Recipe for Life programme is thriving, funded by Barking and Dagenham council.
We have refurbished the old bowling pavilion in Central Park, next to the farm. We are planting the Bowling Green as an orchard, herb garden and cut flower area and have been running a series of pop-up events for local residents – focusing on building community and improving physical and mental health for older people, families on low incomes and young people – and bringing those disparate groups together through food preparation workshops.
Join us at our tree-planting sessions with orchard expert Sean Hearn on Tuesday 15 January, Wednesday 16 January and Tuesday 22 January. All volunteering sessions start at 10am. Reserve your place through Eventbrite.