Gardens helping people back to work

Joseph Bulmer

SEEDS sown six years ago have come to fruition for Grow@Jigsaw, an horticultural project which provides training and work experience to help people develop skills and support them back into work and social integration.

Its workers are now looking forward to the spring, when they plan to hold an open day for the public to see their work and sample their wares.

The project is run from greenhouses and outdoor growing areas in Victoria Park, Bideford, and at allotments in Mill Lane, Barnstaple.

Some 15 people are currently helped by the project each week, around half of them long term volunteers and the rest on shorter term placements.

Grow@Jigsaw was one of the former Community Projects North Devon services that came over to Westcountry Housing management last summer. Westcountry is a landlord in Westward Housing Group, along with Tarka Housing locally, providing 7,000 affordable homes across Devon and Cornwall.

Last year it became a Big Lottery funded project, with Kym Cassinelli as project manager and two full-time members of staff Jenni Payne and Ann Davies.

The vegetables it grows are for sale from the greenhouses in Victoria Park, picked fresh as required. There are also vegetable bags to order and the project supplies the Caf� du Parc in Victoria Park and local catering firms.

Plants, wreaths and decorations are also sold from the greenhouses and at market stalls.

Grow started life in 2004, initially with hopes of using land at Pollyfield, East-the-Water.

This land was later reserved for housing, but in 2008 the council offered the use of the greenhouses in Victoria Park and a lease was signed the following year.

Initial work was concerned with renovating the site, including re-glazing and repairing the greenhouses, laying hard standing to improve access, painting and shrub clearance.

At first it ran on a shoestring budget and with limited hours, with money from Bideford Bridge Trust, Bideford Town Council, Torridge District Council and the Community Safety Partnership.

But a successful bid to the Big Lottery Local Food programme last year brought three years funding of more than �100,000, which has allowed the project to open five days a week.