From ex-paratrooper to marketing student and more: Meet the Grow Wild Mentors

Earlier this year, Grow Wild invited applications from people all over the UK to become volunteer mentors. The mentors work with Grow Wild community projects, or on other projects within their communities, offering new skills and knowledge to help the projects flourish. Photographer and blogger Clare Hewitt set off on an epic journey spanning the whole of the UK, to meet some of these amazing volunteers...

Beginning my journey in Newcastle, I met Hugh, an ex-army paratrooper who has championed the idea of teamwork and community throughout his whole life. He showed me around the Comfrey Project, an incredible community garden that brings asylum seekers and refugees together to grow wild flowers and food and most importantly to build networks. As we wandered through the growing fruit and vegetables, Hugh explained his motivations for becoming a mentor. “I’ve got a lot of gardening experience, so being able to pass it on is great. Even if I can help one or two, I see how much help we give to people who need it, and that’s all the satisfaction I need.”

Those who come to the Comfrey Project are given an opportunity to meet others in the same situation as them, to nurture food in the large poly tunnel, and to encourage growing populations of bees in the newly constructed bee garden. It was wonderful to see that refugees from Africa had managed to grow covo in the space, a leafy vegetable native to their homeland, which they cook on site. This sense of acceptance is at the heart of Hugh’s ethos. “It gives purpose. God only knows what they’re going through or what they’ve been through. But to settle into a completely strange area, people need to feel welcome. For the Comfrey Project to get everyone together and feel like a community, it’s a big asset.”

Next, my travels took me to the beautiful Pollock Park in Glasgow, the base of Flower Power, another project supporting refugees. There I met Wing-Yee, who told me that she was keen to become a mentor to pass on her passion for working with nature, “The people we work with learn that anyone and everyone can get involved in looking after our environment and that it’s a really good thing to do. And it’s not just a good thing to do for now and for us, it’s a good thing for future generations."

Smiling widely she told me how the Grow Wild mentorship scheme has helped her too. “Grow Wild has given me the confidence, and the training, to support more people to get involved with growing wild flowers in the UK.”

She explained what everyone was working on during our visit. “Today I’ve brought a group of people from Central and Western Integration Network to Flower Power. We’ve come to collect seeds and to plant seedlings in the poly tunnel to then plant outside, which will create more wild flower spaces here at Pollock Park.”

My third stop saw me in Carmarthen with Bridie and Mimi, two young women bursting with ideas to inspire all generations in their community. They met me at the train station in their Grow Wild T-shirts, and we walked together through town to Hinds Park, a seemingly attractive community space. But take a closer look and you notice that over the years the park has become neglected and misused, preventing families from taking their children to play there. Bridie and Mimi saw a lot of potential in the space, and brought their community together for an afternoon of litter picking to start cleaning up the area. As Bridie told me, “It’s important to try.” Mimi highlighted the benefits of the event. “It got the people together. We could discuss ideas for the park while litter picking, and make plans. We’re hoping for a quarterly litter pick, one for every season.”

Finally I travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to meet Adam, a mentor with the all the same values but a slightly different skillset. As a recent marketing graduate from Ulster University, his interest in nature started at a young age whilst watching his parents tend to their garden. But he didn’t feel he had enough knowledge in this area. He told me, “I looked at the application form and I didn’t have anything gardening related that I could have shared with other people. But I did have experience in event management and social media. I’m interested in bringing people together, and social media ties in with that.”

Adam has started working with Donegall Pass, his closest community garden, in order to improve their social media presence and promote events that they organise. “In future I’d like to get down to Donegall Pass and to see if I can get more people down there and get them involved, especially young people in that area.”

Since becoming a mentor, Adam has been inspired to start growing and cooking his own food with his grandfather. “I’ve learnt patience through gardening, and it’s given me a lot of confidence to just get out into the garden and get involved, not be apprehensive, just get stuck in.” He also has plans to take his new skills further afield. “I’m about to work in a school in Spain for a year, and I’d love to take the knowledge that I’ve learnt through Grow Wild and encourage the children there to do gardening. I think anything that plants that little seed to encourage children to be involved in nature is great.”

I came away from this adventure totally inspired, knowing that these seeds are spreading far and wide with the help of the Grow Wild mentorship scheme, and that the dedication and passion of the mentors really is generating huge benefits to people throughout the whole country.

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