Having previously taking part in the Elevate Programme, we benefitted enormously from the mentoring support and felt that we would benefit as much (if not more) following our move to our new site at Lislagan Farm, Ballymoney. We were keen to access mentoring support to help us better use community development principles to guide the delivery of our project and understand more about co-production and participatory budgeting.
The aim of our project entitled ‘Plot to Pot’ was to provide an opportunity for people with learning disabilities to grow their own fruit and vegetables and then turn them into jams, chutneys and basic meals. The project focussed on capacity building, skills acquisition and emotional resilience which all helped to alleviate the health inequalities experienced by our members. We reached out to local community groups and encouraged them to hold cookery and planting workshops with our members. We engaged with a senior community group (Happy Mondays), a local community garden (Scullery O’Tullagh), a local garden centre (Ben Vista) and a local business (Avodah bakehouse).
As it was my first individual project it has given me the confidence to run more projects. It has also highlighted to me the difficulties that certain demographics face around health inequalities - specifically their access to good homecooked food. Some of our members have already replicated certain dishes they were taught to cook at home, for example Irish Stew using mince beef as a cheaper alternative to steak pieces. The project has created an excitement within our members to grow their own food at home, for example potatoes. We planted potatoes with members and showed them how simple it could be. They are genuinely excited to harvest their own pots of potatoes which they have planted. Many members acknowledged they needed to increase their consumption of fresh vegetables. I facilitated a discussion around healthier options when cooking and encouraged the members to discuss the health benefits of the vegetables they were planting. Certain members who were shy or reluctant at the beginning of the workshop were actively taking part as the sessions progressed.
The focus of our mentoring support was exploring the possibility of direct payment services and the development of our current People's Forum (individuals with lived experience). This was my first experience of project delivery and the sessions with my mentor gave me the confidence to connect more with communities in our area and to represent my organisation in the wider community.
The training increased my awareness of the importance of community networks and the added value of community connections. I also gained a greater understanding of the sector and how other community groups outside of our demographic have similar issues and funding difficulties. Following the training we shared the learning at our team meeting, where we discussed the importance of networking within the community and potential community partners we could link in to support project delivery.
We will continue to use learning from the Elevate Programme to inform and shape our future programmes. We have made many useful connections including with Happy Monday's group, who are keen to carry our more cookery workshops with us and Scullery O'Tullagh has shared with us useful techniques that we plan to try at our own farm.
"We feel the elevate project is a meaningful source of training and development. The mentorship creates connections that last far beyond the project!"
Danielle McKee, Finance Manager