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Author: BBC News
Published on 21 June 2012 12:00 AM

A group that provides support to older people has been awarded a Big Lottery Fund grant.

Grow, a community garden project, based in north Belfast, works to improve the lives of those who are isolated and vulnerable.

It will use the money to develop three community gardens.

The group is one of four organisations that have been awarded grants totalling over £1.4m from the Big Lottery Fund.

It was awarded under the charity's Reaching Out: Connecting Older People programme which supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability or long-term illness or who live in residential care or sheltered housing.

Grow will develop three community gardens in north Belfast at sites in Camberwell Terrace Fold, Newington day centre and the Waterworks.

Older people who are isolated, lonely and stuck indoors because of issues such as health problems, lack of opportunities or lack of transport, will get the chance to take part in group gardening sessions.

They will participate in activities such as garden design, harvesting and innovative cooking workshops to eat the healthy produce they have grown.

Family and other community members will get the chance to work in the gardens alongside the older people.


Trained volunteers will provide extra support, driving older people without transport to the gardens and providing one-to-one assistance and support for those who need it.

"This project is not just about growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, it is about growing community, breaking down isolation and making people feel part of something," said director Siobhan Craig.

"There are older people in this area who are isolated and can't leave the house because they might have a disability, they are living with dementia or Alzheimer's, or they are caring for a loved one."

"The new garden projects will help improve people's lives, providing opportunities for them to connect with others and actively participate in their community.

"It will also give them the chance to enjoy the fresh air, cook and eat food they have grown and take part in a range of other activities to reduce feelings of loneliness and improving confidence and wellbeing."

Mary Connor, 61, from north Belfast, said: "I developed ME and had to retire from work early.

"It really knocked me for six, not just physically, but I became quite introverted, too, and just stayed in the house staring at the walls," she said.

"I went along to see what it was all about and I loved it, I met a group of very diverse people of all ages and we really gelled.

"It is lovely to regain your independence and really feel part of something special."

Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI chair, said: "We are already seeing the really positive impact that the Connecting Older People programme is having on the lives of our most vulnerable older people during this harsh period of recession in Northern Ireland."

"The programme is supporting a range of vital projects that are transforming the lives of older people in our communities who at risk of isolation, depression, mental and physical ill health and low self-esteem. Our funding is supporting those older people who need our help the most."

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For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575