By Tony Allen
Walking through Bowthorpe on a relatively normal Wednesday morning, you’d be forgiven for missing the GROW Organisation, tucked away behind houses at the end of a small track.
But it provides an extremely important community service for Norwich residents who may feel like they have nowhere else to turn.
The two acre site, known as the Hub, is based around the central Hub building with office space, a kitchenette and a large main hall for activities, workshops and meetings. Along one side is a garden area, with an orchard, and there are other plantations on the opposite side. A walk down to ‘The Dell’ takes you to an even quieter, more peaceful area with outdoor seating and wooded areas full of wildlife.
It’s amazing how an area can be so quiet and peaceful, yet be located right in the middle of a busy residential area.
But the GROW Organisation’s idyllic site is really made by those who use it. Various sessions and drop-ins take place there, including their popular veterans’ drop-ins, run by veterans for veterans. Ex-service people, employees of the blue light services, their families and pets are invited to come and socialise with one another and GROW organisation staff.
It’s not just veterans who are welcome to use the Hub. The GROW Organisation’s focus is mental health, working in partnership with many agencies to provide the physical activities the majority of the other agencies can’t. Not being office or classroom based, their facilities are used to get people outdoors and involved in healthy exercise, nature and nutrition. Many people learn gardening and basic carpentry skills, which appeals especially to the veterans attending the regular Monday and Wednesday sessions.
Anyone who needs or wants to is invited to come and tend the land and work towards positive change by progressing the site, meeting new friends and building self-confidence along the way.
The GROW Organisation’s major project at the moment is a transformation of the garden, with the area constantly evolving to meet its needs for those who use it. The upper part will be developed into even better land for growing food, with vertical farming for people with spinal injuries and prosthetic limbs, plus a wildlife haven and sensory garden. The Dell will be developed in two parts, with one side seeing native fruit trees and a firepit for outdoor cooking, and the other cultivated with a focus on biodiversity, with plans including the installation of a large wildlife pond. The idea behind this is to create an inclusive place for wildlife and people.
When the Blog Society visited, we spoke to Chief Executive Alexandra Cosgrove and Nicholl Hardwick, who began interning with the charity as Marketing and Communications Officer in March.
Nicholl told us: “When people attend our sessions, it gives them a focus. It gives them a form of socialisation, it gives them friendship, it allows not only for them to learn new skills but also for us to hone in on the skills they already have which could be beneficial to the grounds that we have, and embracing talents which already exist in them and trying to pull them out a little bit more. We call the people who attend participants because they are giving us just as much as we’re giving them.”
The Hub, said Nicholl, satisfies a number of different purposes for those who use it. “We want it to be a sanctuary where people can feel very safe, whether they’re coming in here asking for help or advice and it’s something that’s very much a crisis situation for them at that point or if they just want to come and socialise with their friends. These are nice grounds to do it in, and they want to do some good and be in nature.”
I notice that all the regular visitors have their own mug in the kitchenette. Despite the relatively new-feeling building, the place has a very homely atmosphere. I mention this to Nicholl.
“It’s definitely a space where we try and create as much comfort and sense of safety as possible,” she explains. Alexandra adds: “people attending the Hub come for various reasons and everyone is at a different stage in their wellbeing journey. It is a safe place for people to explore, increase confidence, make new friends, learn new skills or share ones they already have.”
Nicholl agrees that the green space and wildlife can really lift the mood. “I think the grounds are beautiful, I don’t know many people who have an office space like this. I love it. When I turn up, there will be so many noises from animals and nature going on. It’s so nice to be able to come outside, have a breather, walk down to the Dell. The other day I saw a muntjac deer just pop out. It’s so good for mindfulness. Being surrounded by this reminds you of how much nature can help with mental health, definitely.”
Nicholl is also keen to see more UEA students and others who could benefit from the service taking up the opportunity to get involved, identifying the gaps existing in social care provision which see people who could benefit from the GROW Organisation’s services not finding out about it: “We’re trying to engage with students to see if this is something that they could benefit from, whether it’s coming in and doing some green therapy just because you’re too stressed out, whether it’s coming and making willow bird feeders or taking photos or doing creative writing groups here. We want people to make the most of this space in the most holistic way possible.”
The GROW Organisation is a hidden Norwich gem, closer to UEA than you might realise. They have raised awareness of their existence recently with an appearance at the Sandringham Flower Show and a stall outside the Forum selling bird feeders and other items made by the scheme’s participants. They welcome all who wish to make use of their service and facilities for whatever reason, or help out behind-the-scenes.
If you’d like to get involved with helping the GROW Organisation, er, grow or come along to one of their drop-in sessions, you can visit them on Facebook, Twitter, find their website or give them a call on 01603 740107.
To see what’s on at the site, take a look at their leaflet here.
The GROW Organisation is Blog Society’s chosen charity for 2018, and we are proud to have supported their work with a small donation. We wish them all the best for their upcoming initiatives and look forward to working with them in the future.
Photos courtesy of Luke Aldridge