By Andy Hirst
A new community group has grown out of the pandemic to help people suffering from loneliness.
Growing Focal began in the Oakes area of Huddersfield in April as a group planting grow-your-own food and has now expanded to become a place where people can meet up and learn all kinds of new crafts.
The idea originally came from Christine Parker from Salendine Nook after she discovered an elderly neighbour had no food during the pandemic and he’d become really isolated.
Christine was a mutual aid volunteer in the first lockdown so realised how many people were shielding and feeling isolated with no contact with anyone.
She liaised with social enterprise company Local Services 2 You who manage the Focal Community Centre on New Hey Road – the old Oakes police station – on behalf of the focal committee and got permission to start Growing Focal there.
Christine said: “The idea was inspired by a lack of food so I thought it would be great to encourage people to grow their own. We started with five members and the idea was to set up a community allotment. We’ve not got to that stage yet but we’ve made a start with quite a few planters and Kirklees Council says we can expand more next to our building.
“Now with winter coming we’ve metamorphosised into a crafts group called Bee Creative. Just about everyone who attends can do a craft and so we are teaching one another new skills. We’d love people who can teach craft skills to volunteer to lead sessions.”
Christine added: “This project has helped so many people who lost all confidence, were suffering from anxiety and it’s transformed their physical and mental wellbeing.”
Anyone can join the group although some have been referred to it by Presley Douglas, social prescribing link worker for doctors’ surgeries in north Huddersfield from Salendine Nook to Deighton.
The surgeries are known as Greenwood Primary Care Network and have 54,000 people on their books. Presley helps people with social interaction as it can have such a positive bearing on their health. He’ll help them to contact community groups if they are lonely or isolated and can point them in the right direction if they have housing concerns or financial troubles.
Presley said: “Some people are really struggling with loneliness, are going stir crazy in their own homes and need to get out and to meet people. There are many people in Growing Focal who didn’t know one another but have formed close bonds and are incredibly supportive of one another. This works perfectly from a social prescribing point of view.”
The group received National Lottery funding to get started and has been well supported by local businesses who have donated money. Facebook appeals for donations of unwanted crafts have had a good response too.
The crafts include making bracelets, Christmas cards, Christmas decorations, rag rugs, and dementia mitts. People with dementia often scratch themselves but the mitts have tactile objects in them such as buttons they can play with instead.
The planters have had corn in them along with wildflowers, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beetroots, potatoes, herbs, strawberries and blackcurrant bushes. With their first harvest of cauliflower the group made a soup which everyone shared.
One person who regularly attends is Georgina Ibbotson, daughter of the late Derek Ibbotson who won bronze in the 5000m at the 1956 Olympics and set a new world record for the mile in 1957.
She suffered the loss of her elder sister, Christine Ibbotson, in September and has found some comfort attending the group.
“I think it’s important to get out and meet people at times like this,” she said. “All my family now live a long way away and Christine wasn’t just my sister, but also my best friend.”
A local resident contacted Growing Focal to say: “While on our family walks around the community we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful fruit and vegetable patch that you have all worked hard to build. This has been a truly inspiring project for our family and the community.”
Local Services 2 You community services manager Lisa Newbold said: “As soon as it became apparent we would be allowed to meet outside again after lockdown we wanted to support Christine start a growing group. We were blown away by the response from local people wanting to attend and it keeps on getting better and better.”
Growing Focal runs every Wednesday from 1pm to 3.30pm.
Growing Focal has launched a fundraising appeal to raise money to double its growing space and buy a greenhouse. To donate to the scheme or to watch a video about Growing Focal go to https://www.spacehive.com/growing-focal
* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who now runs his own Huddersfield-based agency AH! PR specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting for business in Yorkshire and across the UK.