A gardening project in Consett is helping people to improve their mental and physical health thanks to a grant from The Bernicia Foundation.

Let’s Get Growing offers therapeutic horticulture and wellbeing sessions for people with mental health issues (including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder), dementia or mild learning difficulties, plus those who are socially isolated and lack self-esteem.

Following an £8,900 Inclusion Grant from The Bernicia Foundation, Let’s Get Growing delivered 45 weekly sessions where 80 participants tended to a community garden to grow a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, which they took home to cook simple, healthy and affordable meals from basic ingredients.

The two-acre organic garden is based at Minsteracres Retreat Centre in Consett and features fruit and vegetable patches, ornamental and herb beds. It is designed to encourage wildlife and offer a space where people can relax, learn and move towards a greater sense of wellbeing.

Let’s Get Growing, which is based in Hexham, Northumberland, works with a wide range of groups, including asylum seekers, people in recovery from substance misuse, carers and the homeless. People usually join the group following a difficult point in their life or illness when they often feel disempowered or struggle to have a meaningful role in their local community.

Let’s Get Growing is supported by a team of ten volunteers who use their professional skills and community spirit to help people build their own abilities, confidence and self-esteem.

Ross Menzies, joint Project Coordinator for Let’s Get Growing, believes that gardening can help people through various challenges in their lives: “The people that attended the sessions were part of a mixed-need group and, whatever the challenges they faced in their personal lives, in the garden they were appreciated for who they were and supported to make a meaningful contribution,” he said.

“Many conversations happened alongside gardening and much sharing and laughter took place naturally and easily. It is hard to express just what a difference it can make when someone is valued for who they are, really heard, when they have a sense of purpose, belonging and something to take pride in.

“We have also been able to welcome many other groups into the garden and held an open day with workshops and guided tours. The garden is a place of belonging and transformation and the funding from The Bernicia Foundation has allowed so many positive things to take place for so many people.”

Let’s Get Growing has seen a rise in demand for mental health support and meaningful activities for people with dementia and learning difficulties. It is also committed to supporting carers who can often feel isolated and need respite support to meet their own mental health and wellbeing needs.

Jenny Allinson, Director of The Bernicia Foundation, said: “Let’s Get Growing provides vital support to help people manage their mental health and wellbeing in a productive and meaningful way.

“Bringing people together to share experiences and learn new skills is a great way of combating isolation, promoting independence and reducing loneliness in our communities.

“Projects like this one have a huge impact on the lives of participants – and their families and carers – and we are proud to support it.”

The Bernicia Foundation is a charitable trust set up by North East housing association, Bernicia, to help direct funds where they are most needed – supporting local people living in hard-working communities across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teesside.

Two funding streams are available – the inclusion fund for voluntary/community groups, registered charities and social enterprises which awards up to £10,000, and the inspiration fund, awarding up to £1,000 for young people, aged 24 years and under, who are actively working towards personal goals.

Applications for the next round of funding open on Monday 1 July 2024. Full details are available at www.berniciafoundation.com