Sowing seeds – fragile sustainability of volunteer led urban food growing projects working in deprived areas of the UK
Ramsden, Sam (2016)

This research explores issues of sustainability of volunteering for marginalised people through a case study of a Big Lottery funded food growing project in a deprived area of Hull. The project was managed by a local civil society organisation (CSO) that developed a community garden, helped local families grow food in their homes, and supported a citywide free cooked food event. The project successfully engaged marginalised people as a team of volunteers who strongly supported each activity. Many are on benefits with mixed experiences of government support for volunteering.

During continuous research, the volunteers have strongly voiced benefits from volunteering including improving mental health, reducing isolation, increasing self-reliance and resilience, helping people in food poverty – providing foundations for transformative agency.

The funding has finished and there is little new funding available, in common with many CSO led volunteering projects. However, there are efforts to continue: former project staff are developing their own CSO as volunteers, and the volunteers are forming their own group. These efforts are in their early stages and are very fragile without support: the volunteers want staff support to become established, the CSO needs funding to pay staff, and both groups need to secure land for growing. The research is continuing to explore whether both efforts are sustainable and raises questions of whether donors and government will support vulnerable local residents who are improving their lives and giving back to their communities – this case study will help illuminate the future of volunteering over the few years.

Sam Ramsden, is a final year PhD researcher at University of Hull who conducting monitoring and evaluation for the Green Prosperity Project – a Big Lottery Funded Communities Living Sustainably project.