In life, it is usually the accidental meetings and occurences that turn out to be the most interesting, and so it was when I Freecycled for a couple of gas bottles to make woodburning stoves from. Joan and Tina were kind enough to bring me a couple, and we got to chatting, and so it is that I’m involved with Growing Connections.
Hopefully I’ll be of some use, and can bring some knowledge of practical things to the management team. Here’s what its all about –
Promoting social and environmental sustainability and quality of life for all
Growing Connections is a community based voluntary organisation based at a farm outside Bangor in Northern Ireland. The personal experiences and circumstances of its founding members and farm owners, led them to explore the value of working with nature and connecting with like-minded people as a way of promoting personal well-being. The group set up Growing Connections in February 2009, with a long term vision to establish a fully fledged care farm. In its first 9 months Growing Connections has seen its membership grow to over 40 interested individuals, who bring with them a range of skills and expertise to help realise the overall vision. Attaining this long-term vision we believe will take approximately 5 years. The project consists of 5 main phases and already phase 1 is well underway. Involvement in all aspects of the project is fully inclusive and we welcome new members from all walks of life.
Our Vision and mission
Our vision is to create a safe and stimulating environment where all individuals can connect with nature and others to promote their personal well-being. We believe that activities on our farm will give individuals a clear sense of purpose allowing them to build self-esteem, confidence, well-being and to flourish. The principles of environmental and social sustainability are at the heart of the project. We believe that through this project we can make a very positive contribution to peoples’ lives and our local community. The 5 ways of positive well-being run through the core of the project these are:
Connect – with people and the world around you
Be active – discover a physical activity you enjoy
Take notice – be aware of yourself and the world around you
Keep learning – try something new, rediscover an old interest
Give – do something nice for a friend or a stranger
The Project – where we are now
In October 2009 we will be gearing up to offer a number of activities on the farm in the run up to Christmas. These will be based primarily in what we are calling the ‘project field’, an acre patch close to the farm house and outbuildings. We will be building the infrastructure of a large vegetable garden, including erecting a polytunnel, creating raised beds, a hen enclosure, a patio area and accessible pathways. We are hoping that we will also be able to make a start on essential works to our woodland area in preparation for the introduction of a red squirrel population.
In the near future we are planning to increase our activities by offering allotments and horticultural and farming activities to all local community members. These are incremental steps towards our over-riding plan to create a successful care farming business.
Our five over-riding strategic objectives
• At all times structure the project to facilitate the maximum amount of connectivity and interaction with the local community.
• Ensure an ethos where individuals will be encouraged to take responsibility for their personal well-being
• Supporting people to develop skills and widen their experience
• Ensure a fully inclusive project which eliminates stigma and discrimination of all disadvantaged and marginalised groups and individuals.
• Strong focus the principles of permaculture, organic farming, good animal husbandry, sustainable energy usage, recycling and wildlife management.
What our project will deliver
• The promotion of social inclusion
• The promotion of integration of different communities
• The promotion of health and well-being
• The promotion of farming practice which is both compassionate and organic
• The promotion of permaculture and self sufficient lifestyles
• Providing people with a place to meet and connect with each other and with nature
• Providing interesting and stimulating activities
• Providing the opportunity for the recovery of self confidence and self esteem
• Providing training, support and advice
• Promotion of local food production
• Promotion of a positive response to climate change and peak oil issues
“The ‘five ways to wellbeing’ are rooted in a wealth of evidence, and show that there are simple, positive actions that people can take to improve their well-being…
Nic Marks, founder of the centre for well-being at nef,
The development of our project will be staggered over a number of phases these are as follows:
In phase 1 a one acre plot adjacent to the farm buildings will be earmarked for the growing of vegetables and a rescue centre for ex-battery hens. In addition a project will commence on the maintenance of the woodland and pond areas which will incorporate forest gardening using permaculture principles.
It is planned to set up a red squirrel sanctuary in phase 2 together with other wildlife areas and to commence maintenance work elsewhere on the farm including coppicing, fencing and dry stone walling.
In phase 3 the project will be expanded to the keeping of animals including sheep, goats, cattle, horses, donkeys together with hay and straw making.
Phase 4 will see the project expand into a social enterprise including an organic farm shop and on site restaurant.
Phase 5 will entail the building of supported social housing units for older tenants with enduring mental health problems.
‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can’. John Wesley
Get involved –
‘You give but little when you give of your possessions, it is when you give of yourself that you truly give’. Kahlil Gibran
How to get involved
Our members come from many different sections of society, all have very different life experiences and skills but they are brought together by our common commitment to a sustainable lifestyle and the creation of a nurturing community which is based on non material values, respect for each individual’s right to a good quality of life, a desire for a closer connection between people and nature and a belief that through support each individual can reach their full potential.
There is no membership fee for 2009/10. Whether fees are introduced in 2010/11 is yet to be determined.
As a group we all have different skills and interests to bring to the project, however within the current membership we lack some of the necessary skills and experience to realise our long term vision.
We need mentoring support to help us to remain focused on what we need to do to make this project a success and to create a framework and enterprise which will be sustainable – economically, environmentally and socially for the future.
You may not have the time to get involved in the future development of the project but you may like to get involved by being a member mentor to someone who has more time to commit to the project.