Congleton Food4Free’s aim is to encourage, inspire and educate people to grow more of their own food either communally (for sharing) or on their own ground (for themselves).
The group was formed in July 2012, having evolved from the Blueberry Project, where blueberry bushes had been planted in public spaces in the town centre so that passers-by could pick the fruit. Why blueberries? Because Congleton is Beartown, and bears love berries.
The group continues to plant blueberries along with other edibles, plus plants for pollinators, because without bumble bees and other vital insects, many food crops would not exist.
From May 2013 through to 2014, the group has had a regular volunteer day/time one day a month for weeding, further planting, litter picking the garden and other areas in the town centre. However, being such a small group, it hasn’t been possible to set volunteer days for 2015. Usually one member attends to a small job in passing, or finds a little spare time to pop down and do something at short notice.
As the group is quite small, it needs to build up a volunteer pool to call on to help work on existing sites, fund raise or provide any other help. For initial contact to offer your help, please use this website’s contact form or email Olga (olga ‘dot’ whitmore ‘at’ googlemail ‘dot’ com (replace the words ‘dot’ and ‘at’ with the correct symbol).
Letter of introduction
Here’s the group’s letter of introduction sent to companies and organisations requesting help:
Could you help Congleton?
We are looking for:
Volunteers to clear/plant/water/feed/weed/litter-pick small areas of land (publicly or privately owned) planted with edibles or pollinator plants
Commitment from companies and others to use some of their land to grow edibles or pollinator plants or both, as an investment in employees’ well-being and to enhance the surroundings – we can advise, if necessary, on planting and possibly sell you some plants
Donations (of money, expertise, items) to plant more edibles and pollinator plants, either for filling in gaps, improving neglected areas or creating beauty that is also practical. Any such help will be clearly labelled with the sponsor’s name.
Our rationale and aims
Congleton Food4Free is an independent group within the Congleton Sustainability Group, which works to make our town more sustainable, and itself is part of the Congleton Partnership. Congleton Food4Free aims to encourage, inspire and educate residents to think about how food can be grown communally and attractively, and how they could also grow more of their own food in their own plots. Since bumble bees, honey bees and other pollinators are vital for food production, we also aim to encourage the growing of plants for these essential but threatened pollinators.
Growing food benefits physical and mental health, encourages all age groups to take pride in and help care for public spaces, brings people together and develops community bonds. Just have a look at Incredible Edible’s website to see what has been achieved since 2008.
We would like to create a pool of volunteers we can call on to help with maintaining areas we have already planted , working on ongoing projects, and the many ideas we have for the future, which are on hold until more willing hands are available. Please look at the Business in the Community website to read all about the benefits of Give & Gain Day (next one is 15th May 2015) and regular volunteering by employees.
Our achievements 2011-to date
Here in Congleton in 2011, as part of Congleton in Bloom’s town centre planting, there were containers of herbs that could be picked by passers-by.
In 2012, blueberry plants were the focus for the tubs, again for passers-by to pick the fruit. We also planted blueberries and other edibles (strawberries, chives and Chinese raspberries) amongst existing plants near the library and ex-council offices.
In 2013, we nearly completed the conversion of the unloved litter-strewn shrubbery at the bus station (near Capitol Walk) into an attractive area of edibles and pollinator plants, to demonstrate that permanent plantings can be ornamental and functional. (Thank you for discounted plants from DJM Nurseries, Astbury and RPG Herbs, Hulme Walfield, and for a peat alternative for the blueberries from Loach, Congleton).
From 2014 onwards, we have been focussing on adding plants to fill the gaps, keeping the weeds and litter down, using the site to educate people about edibles and pollinator plants, and encouraging passers-by to pick the edibles in season, and consider growing their own.
In 2013-4, we also replanted the circular raised beds at the leisure centre entrance with edibles and pollinator plants, but this project was later abandoned by the leisure centre.
In 2014, we were also involved in filling the raised bed between Bojangles cafe and Stead & Simpson shoe shop with a permanent planting of herbs for passers-by to enjoy.
For the past few years, a knock-on effect of Congleton Food4Free’s initiatives has been that herbs are now included in various town centre tubs.
In addition to support from Congleton Town Council (particularly working towards Congleton maintaining its winning streak of ‘in Bloom’ awards) and councillors, we have developed contacts with various individuals and organisations who have volunteers, funds or both for clearing/planting. These have included Dawn Gibbins (now Rev. Dawn Cox), in Bloom volunteers, the Payback Team, and the LOL Foundation (formerly Life After The Services). The Congleton Chronicle has also always been willing to publish our press releases and photos, which has lead to publicity for all involved. We could not have cleared and planted up the Capitol Walk garden without all this help.
We raise funds from sponsored plantings, from selling blueberry plants and jam, and from grants by the Congleton Partnership and local trusts (including Congleton Inclosure Trust and William Dean Education and Countryside Trust).