Walled Garden. Credit: Auckland Project
One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been a renewed interest in growing our own food. Since the first lockdown in 2020, Food Durham has worked with various partners to create veg growing activities for families to do at home. Family Centres, for example, have created grow your own packs with healthy eating advice distributed in the February 2021 half term and Easter holidays. A Community Development Trust in the east of County Durham is doing something similar in encouraging families to start growing some of their own food.
Food Durham has instigated discussions around the food provision during the school holidays and this has led to Durham County Council to ask Durham Community Action to formulate a proposal to develop and deliver a training programme to community groups delivering holiday activities with food to incorporate veg growing activities and the importance of increasing the uptake of veg with children.
Improving access to fruit and vegetables
Community groups across County Durham identified the importance of access to fresh vegetables to vulnerable members of their communities which has led to an increase in connectivity to grassroots groups. A case in point is The Auckland Project, who manages a historic visitor attraction in Bishop Auckland in the south west of the County. They found themselves with a large walled garden being unused after the first lockdown in 2020. The original purpose had been to grow veg for their onsite restaurant and have the space available for visitors to enjoy. However, it was repurposed, and gardening staff grew vegetables which were distributed to local community food projects. Between July and December 2020, they distributed 8,539kg of veg, some 2,000kg of which was grown by Cultivate4Life, a local community project which supports young people of Bishop Auckland, providing horticultural work with one-to-one support on allotments in a local estate. The Auckland Project continues to distribute fresh fruit and veg although those are now bought in. They are exploring ways in which the local growing can be continued during 2021.
Increasing the uptake of Healthy Start
Covid has shone a light on the need to increase the visibility and uptake of Healthy Start vouchers, a lifeline for many families on low incomes to pay for milk, fruit and vegetables. Food Durham is part of the task and finish group on Healthy Start set up by the County Council. The Public Health team at Durham County Council has rolled out a training programme about Healthy Start Vouchers to voluntary and community sector partners, as well as to council staff with a public facing role, e.g., welfare rights officers. This has led to a much wider awareness of the benefits of Healthy Start vouchers and the impending changes.
Sustain are encouraging more areas to launch Veg Cities campaigns and get local businesses and organisations making veg pledges. Veg Cities is a campaign of Sustainable Food Places and is run in partnership with Peas Please.