A PROJECT which helps people to grow their own fruit and vegetables is helping to combat loneliness.

Get Out More CIC and its Edible Streets project is one of many local groups across the UK that have stepped up to support people feeling isolated during this challenging time.

The project, which has been awarded almost £9,000 of National Lottery funding to bring people together by making gardening accessible to older residents, is being highlighted by The National Lottery Community Fund during national Loneliness Awareness Week.

The fund has been focusing on how local charities and community groups have been helping to tackle social isolation in their area.

Over the past five years almost £700 million of National Lottery funding has been distributed to charities working to address loneliness and social isolation and build connections and relationships.

In Yorkshire & Humber alone, 318 projects have received a share of over £13.4 million of National Lottery funding since the start of the pandemic to tackle the issue.

The money received by Keighley-based Get Out More has enabled the project to provide gardening equipment, planters, compost, seeds, plants, and fruit trees to aspiring gardeners in disadvantaged areas of Keighley.

Weekly visits have helped green-fingered local residents aged between 55 and 90, to grow their own fruit, vegetables, flowers, and herbs in gardens or hanging and wall baskets where outdoor space is limited.

The gardening sessions have helped to create a shared interest between neighbours, sparking conversations that have brought the community closer together. Sessions have been held both with individual households and with socially distanced groups sessions - planting up hanging baskets with flowers and herbs.

Participants are encouraged and helped to grow all kinds of produce including pear and cherry trees, gooseberry bushes, potatoes, runner beans, rhubarb, strawberries, nasturtiums and lavender, as well as herbs such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano and sage.

Loneliness affects people across the country, in both urban and rural communities. According to The National Lottery Community Fund’s most recent Community Research Index - a survey of more than 7,000 people across the UK - almost half of respondents said that tackling loneliness and isolation is an important priority for the year ahead.

At the same time, recent research reveals that the number of people in the UK feeling “often” or “always” lonely has jumped by more than a million since last year - from 2.6 million to 3.7 million.

Annie Berrington, managing director of Get Out More CIC said: “Thanks to National Lottery players we have been able to bring people together through gardening, enabling them to share common experiences with their neighbours, while learning to grow their own produce and spending time outdoors improving their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Get Out More found that there were many older members of the community in Keighley feeling lonely, suffering from depression, and feeling bored due to inactivity.

“The results so far are fantastic, and residents are excited to see the first fruits appearing on their trees. Neighbours are helping each other out and feeling happier and more active. The project is going from strength to strength with double the number of participants from the start of the project as word spreads and more community members want to join in.”

The National Lottery Community Fund has also combined forces with the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the Local Connections Fund, a £4 million funding programme designed to help build connections within communities. Earlier this year, more than 850 community groups benefitted from the first round of Local Connections Fund grants, with the second round opening to applications on June 28.

The funding is aimed in particular at small organisations with an income of less than £50,000 that are working with communities more vulnerable to social isolation. To find out more, visit: tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/programmes/local-connections-fund.

Abdou Sidibe, head of funding for Yorkshire & Humber at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “As we continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the stigma around loneliness, and making it okay to ask for help, remains more important than ever.

“Loneliness affects people of all ages and from all walks of life, and we know that because of lockdown many people are experiencing isolation for the very first time. That’s why it’s so important that local groups continue to receive the funding they need to support people to connect, reduce feelings of isolation and help their local communities come together. We’re delighted to provide this lifeline on behalf of National Lottery players and also in conjunction with the Government - this support will help many more people to thrive.”