UK Businesses, big and small, are being urged to take action to support their local community growing groups, many of which struggle to make ends meet.
Katie Rushworth, who co-presents ITV's Love Your Garden with Alan Titchmarsh, is launching the ‘Business Heroes' campaign with a new video and toolkit, explaining how businesses can benefit and offering practical advice about how to get involved.
Community growing is a simple idea: a group of local people, usually volunteers, get together to transform a patch of land into an oasis of nature, where people can gather, learn, grow and relax.
Katie Rushworth, who runs her own garden design company and is passionate about local food and growing initiatives, says: "Community growing groups make neighbourhoods better, healthier and friendlier places but, with less funding around, many of them struggle. That's why finding ‘Business Heroes' to support them is so vital.
"Take my home village in Yorkshire for example. Our local community garden is a place for local residents to get together to transform flowerbeds, containers and baskets but this only happens because of local business sponsorship and volunteers who want to give something back to the place they live and work in."
Regardless of their size, all businesses have something to offer. Some prefer to sponsor a project or offer funding over a longer period whilst others get employees involved in fundraising activities or volunteering. Offering discounts on products or free use of equipment is another way of helping, as well as donating skills and training - anything from website design to book keeping.
There is plenty of evidence to show businesses themselves gain tangible benefits from offering support. It's good for employee health and wellbeing, a practical way of supporting local communities, can improve the local economy and also boosts a company's local reputation.
Statistics from Employee Volunteering, an organisation involved in bringing together business and local communities, reinforce these benefits. 97 per cent of volunteers say activities help develop a strong team and 95 per cent say volunteering has had a positive influence on them.
Many high profile businesses are already taking action for local community growing groups, including Network Rail and Marks and Spencer. Sophie Collett, project manager at Marks and Spencer's Spark Something Good initiative, said: "Volunteering on a community growing site is both motivating and inspiring, something which I'm sure colleagues take back to their daily jobs."
Business Heroes is part of a wider campaign, called Local Heroes, which inspires individuals to support community growing groups in their neighbourhoods. Professional gardener and BBC broadcaster Christine Walkden and TV chef Mark Greenaway have also thrown their weight behind the campaign.
It is estimated there are more than 2,500 community growing groups in the UK. These include city farms, community gardens, community orchards, therapeutic and children's gardens. Most rely on voluntary support and need more help to thrive. According to a recent survey*, nearly half of the community growing groups questioned regularly operated at a loss and the majority felt the success of their project relied on grant funding.
Heidi Seary, project manager of the Growing Together partnership which is spearheading the ‘Local Heroes' campaign, said: "We hope our campaign will inspire thousands of people and businesses to take action and do something to support the fantastic work of these groups. The more heroes we create, the more people and businesses will be inspired to do the same, long after the campaign is over.
"Our new toolkit and video will be an invaluable and inspirational resource for businesses who want to take the first steps towards supporting community growing. We would encourage people to read the toolkit if they want to find out more about how to get involved and how doing so can benefit their business."
The Local Heroes campaign is part of Growing Together, a Big Lottery-funded project led by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG), which is leading the year-long national campaign as part of its work to help bring financial sustainability to the UK's network of community growing groups. Membership of the FCFCG is now free for all such groups.
To find out more about how to become a Business Hero, visit the campaign's Business Heroes page where businesses can download the toolkit, watch the video, find details on how to get involved and where their local groups are.