25 new Crop Share places released for Spring!

We are delighted to announce we are expanding our Crop Share veg box scheme to a record 125 members! 

Membership rocketed from 65 to 100 during and after the 2020 Covid lockdown as South Lakeland families sought new supplies of fresh, local veg and cooked more at home.

Now our organic fruit and vegetable farm at Low Sizergh, near Kendal, is releasing a further 25 places to meet demand and help us grow vital commercial income further.

Growing Well Crop Sharers receive around 37 bags of fresh, seasonal, local organic produce a year, paying a monthly subscription of £40.

The income plays a vital part in supporting Growing Well’s charitable work helping around 100 people a year recover from mental health problems by volunteering on our farm and in our kitchen.

Growing Well Head of Horticulture Paul Cambre says: “Our Crop Shares are a reflection of the wonderful work our volunteers do when on-site. Without their commitment to improve their mental health we would not be able to produce such fantastic food for our local community.Growing Well Head of Horticulture Paul Cambre

“By committing to a Crop Share you become a part of that investment as well, and I can’t think of a more fantastic way to support your community.

“The quality and range of our Crop Shares are unique too. We aim to grow some typical British staples, but also sprinkle in unique vegetables you won’t be able to find at your supermarket. As a grower it’s fun to try to grow almost 50 types of produce with well over 150 varieties on offer.

“Our volunteers are involved in all aspects of food production, from sowing seeds to making soil blocks to planting and weeding to harvesting and packing. Our Crop Shares follow the seasons and allow our volunteers to ride along on the journey from seed to plate, from short cold winter days to long bountiful summer ones.”

Crop Sharer Catherin Lindstrom, from Stainton just 3 miles away from the farm, joined last year and says: “We have loved the produce we’ve received and the effort that goes in to ensuring we always have lovely crops each week. Our home menu has seen some new recipes and dishes creep in this year thanks to the almost ‘lucky dip’ feel of what veg and salad we’ll pick up each week compared to our usual shop and selections. That’s been great!”

Lou Field, a Crop Sharer since 2020 who lives in Kendal, says: “I love the friendly personal emails each week, and the beautiful colour photos. It makes us very happy to be able to support Growing Well and eat lovely fresh veg and herbs… I can safely say Jerusalem Artichokes wouldn’t have featured on our dinner table this year if it hadn’t been for our Crop Share. It meets more than half our vegetable needs each week. We are veggie/vegan so that is no mean feat!”

The expansion has been made possible thanks to a £27,000 Enterprise Development Programme grant from the Social Investment Business and the Association of Mental Health Providers. The grant will help us boost our therapeutic growing staff to meet our new target of a record 125 Crop Sharers, at the same time as responding to the growing number of people needing mental health support after the effects of the Covid pandemic. It will also fund investment in marketing and new packaging for the Crop Share scheme and support expansion of other Growing Well trading income.

Growing Well chief executive Mary Smith added: “We are delighted to be offering our beautiful local produce to 25 more local families, supported by this Enterprise Development Programme grant. Crop Sharers are some of our most important supporters – their guaranteed income underwrites all of our farm production which is the foundation of our work to support volunteers build their confidence and resilience. It’s a direct connection to both our produce and our mental health work and a very special thing to be a part of.”

Growing Well Crop Shares are £40 per month payable by direct debit. Bags are made available to collect from Low Sizergh Farm on Thursdays from 4pm.

To become a Growing Well Crop Sharer and join the scheme from April 7 or April 21, or for more information, email cropshare@growingwell.co.uk or call 07903 013648. Also see www.growingwell.co.uk/vegetable-bag-scheme/


Christmas Chutney Gift Packs On Sale Now


Our 2021 ‘Surplus Repurposed’ Christmas chutney and pickle gift packs are now available to order!

We combine surplus fruit and vegetables from the farm with donated ingredients to create our delicious homemade products – reducing food waste AND raising vital funds for our mental health charity.
Each pack of three delicious jars in an environmentally friendly jute bag, costs £12.50 and contains:
– our LEGENDARY Cucumber Pickle (190ml)
– our AMAZING Mixed Tomato Chutney (190ml)
– PLUS a lucky dip from our DELICIOUS Green Bean Chutney, Courgette Chutney, Date and Lemon Chutney, Blackcurrant and Vanilla Jam, Apple and Sage Jelly, Apple and Rosemary Jelly, Apple and Rosemary Jam. (all 190ml)
We also have additional 300ml jars of these fabulous jams, which can be ordered for £3.50:
– Apple and Gooseberry
– Strawberry and Redcurrant
– Raspberry and Elderflower
To order and pay, please use these payment links below.
(We are sorry but to buy different items requires separate transactions. On Mobile, you may have to click on ‘Details’ to change the quantity from 1)
Please call Sharon on 07903 013648 if you have any queries or email info@growingwell.co.uk.

Hairy Bikers at Growing Well!

The Hairy Bikers cook up a feast at South Lakes mental charity Growing Well on TV tonight (Thurs Oct 7) as the cooking duo continue their new Hairy Bikers Go North series.

Si King and Barrow-born Dave Myers spent a whole day filming at the organic veg farm at Low Sizergh in August last year as part of their new eight-part road trip through the north of England.

They spent the morning learning about the charity’s vital work, and speaking with Growing Well’s beneficiaries, who volunteer at the farm or in the charity’s kitchen to help them recover from mental health problems.

The pair picked their own veg from the six-acre farm’s beds and polytunnels as the Growing Well team packed its 100 weekly veg boxes, before spending the afternoon in the kitchen preparing and filming a menu using Growing Well produce, which they then eat with staff and volunteers.

The charity’s Catering Activity Leader Sarah Hill said: “It was a truly memorable day with Si and Dave from the Hairy Bikers, and we have been keeping a secret for more than a year.

“They were down to earth and very interested in the work we do at Growing Well. The volunteers were made to feel at ease, laughing and joking with them both.

“It was a very special day for staff and volunteers alike which culminated in a delicious sit-down meal.”

Dave Myers said: “We were mightily impressed by the work Growing Well do and the quality of what they grow is wonderful. Mental health is such a major issue, and getting involved in growing and the outdoors seems to really help people. Every town should have a Growing Well and I’d love it if they could come to Barrow!”

Chief executive Mary Smith said: “Si and Dave showed great empathy and understanding for our work and the power of supported horticultural activity to help build back people’s confidence and self-worth. And they were bowled over by the quality of our produce.”

Also featured in episode 3 on October 7 and on BBC iPlayer are Tuk’s Thai Food in Barrow Market, Peace and Loaf Bakehouse, and Gilpin Hotel & Lake House in Windermere.


Growing Well wins at Cumbria Farmer Awards

Growing Well has been named the Against All Odds winner at the prestigious Cumbria Farmer Awards.
Thank you to all our team of staff and volunteers and all our supporters who helped us ‘keep on going and keep on growing’ through the last 18 months!
During such challenging times we managed to increase our weekly Crop Share veg bag numbers to more than 100 as Covid led many more people to look for quality fresh, seasonal, local produce.
Thank you for everyone’s kind comments since the awards last Friday night (October 1) at the Greenhill Hotel, Wigton.

Join the 2.6 Challenge for Growing Well

What is it?

Growing Well had a raft of exciting community fundraising planned for 2020. As well as missing out on the fun of coming together and enjoying new experiences, the cancellation of community fundraising events due to COVID-19 has a significant financial impact on our charity.

Now, the organisers of the biggest mass participation sports events in the country – including the London Marathon and Parkrun – have come together to create a fundraising campaign to save the UK’s charities.

The campaign, The 2.6 Challenge, will launch on Sunday 26 April and we’re asking you to dream up an activity based around the numbers 2.6 or 26 and fundraise by creating a 2.6 Challenge fundraising page via our Growing Well JustGiving page. You can set up your page here: https://twopointsixchallenge.justgiving.com/get-involved?charityId=2806613

The 2.6 Challenge is open to anyone of any age – the only requirement is that the activity must follow the Government guidelines on exercise and social distancing!


So how will this help Growing Well?

Growing Well is an inspirational mental health charity based on an organic farm in Sizergh, just outside of Kendal. We offer a unique combination of vocational horticultural and catering activity, therapeutic support and training, which benefits around 150 local people per year.

Since the lockdown, our field and kitchen have closed but our therapeutic team has continued to offer occupationally focused mental health support to our 80 current participants via telephone and video. This approach helps people to find practical ways to cope with the unsettling and often isolating circumstances presented by COVID-19. It also reduces their reliance on statutory services such as visits to the GP or Emergency Department.

Staff have been redeployed to our field so that it is maintained and safe to return to as soon as lockdown is over. Although 200 hours of labour per week down from when we had everyone here mucking in with us, we are continuing to produce organic veg boxes (our beloved “crop share”) for 70 local households.

Our service is free of charge to its participants, many of whom find cost a barrier to therapeutic activity, support and training. However, this is only possible because of the support of our amazing donors and community fundraisers – like you!

The 2.6 Challenge allows you and us to keep up that momentum and have some fun in the process.

Let’s not miss out on all of the joy of the walks, talks, quizzes, gigs and other challenges we had planned for this year. Let’s get creative and fundraise together in a slightly different – but equally eccentric – way.

We know that once COVID-19 has passed, mental health support is going to be a crucial resource for even more people within our community. That’s why we have to keep going and get to the other side of this, so that we can be there for more people. Right now is when Growing Well needs fundraising the most.

All funds raised for Growing Well through your 2.6 Challenge JustGiving page will be transferred directly so the direct impact of your fundraising can be felt immediately by those who most need it. There’s also a national pot of money which will be shared out according to how much the challenge has raised directly for each charity.

Thank you!


What kind of challenge can I do?

Being a mental health charity based within a horticultural enterprise, we are rather partial to vegetable-themed anythings!

But don’t be constrained by that! You can do any creative challenge based around the numbers 2.6 (or 26). You can be any age, any fitness… the only rule is that Government guidelines on exercise and social distancing must be observed.

Here are some of our ideas:

  • Tell your family 26 “Vegetable Joke of the Day”s in a row (drawing from our huge Growing Well repertoire, if needed) – they will sponsor you to stop!
  • Dress up in a pea costume and run or walk 2.6 miles (pea costume optional although we have one you can borrow!)
  • Make and share 2.6kg of Catering Manager Sarah’s Wild garlic falafel
  • Plant 26 vegetable seeds or plug plants in your garden
  • Get 26 people together on Zoom and host a vegetable-themed quiz
  • Paint a vegetable picture with a strict time limit of 2.6 hours (or 2.6 minutes!)

We cannot wait to see and share what you come up with !

Getting started….

There are just five simple steps to take:

  1. Dream up your 2.6 challenge – if you need help there are lots of ideas here
  2. Head to https://twopointsixchallenge.justgiving.com/get-involved?charityId=2806613 to donate £26 – or whatever you can afford ­– to Growing Well or to set up a fundraising page
  3. Ask all your friends and family to sponsor you and challenge them to do their own 2.6 Challenge
  4. Complete your challenge
  5. Share a photo or video of your challenge with us and the nation on social media with #TwoPointSixChallenge – don’t forget to tag in Growing Well.

Good luck and thank you!

Unique chance to learn how to grow fruit and veg

A SOUTH Lakes fruit and veg farm and mental health charity is offering the chance to gain a nationally recognised horticulture qualification in 2020 in its unique environment.

Growing Well helps its volunteers recover from mental health problems through activity, support and training at its six-acre organic site at Low Sizergh Farm.

One of its training courses open to the public as well as its volunteers is its City & Guilds Level 2 Work Based Diploma in Production Horticulture.

The one-year course, starting in January, covers all practical aspects of growing fruit and veg on a small commercial scale, organic and non-organic, with sessions at Growing Well and visits to other sites. Theory lessons in Growing Well’s classroom yurt cover subjects such as seed propagation, identification of pests and diseases, planting and establishing crops, monitoring the health of plants, vegetative propagation and plant nomenclature.

 “Our practically focussed Level 2 qualification is a great way of backing up your own gardening knowledge or interest,” says Growing Well training manager Hazel Sharples.

“Or it’s a great starting point for employment or a change of career into landscaping or nurseries, to start your own business, or move on to a Level 3 horticulture course at colleges such as Newton Rigg or Myerscough.”

The course runs for 35 weeks, every Tuesday from January 14 to early November, with breaks during school holidays. There are no exams. Students build up a portfolio of evidence including observations of practical tasks, photos, worksheets and completed knowledge questions.

The mix of Growing Well volunteers and external students in a small group of up to 12 makes for a unique environment and study group, and provides a real insight into the charity’s work, says Hazel.

“For our external students they get more than just a qualification. They become part of the community of Growing Well, some of whom stay and help support our work with our volunteers.”

One of this year’s students, Julie from Kendal, said of the course: “It’s so much fun. I can’t explain the excitement of harvesting a carrot and eating it. It is lovely to meet people who are interested in horticulture and be part of a team producing food which can be eaten. You build a portfolio as you go along so you don’t realise you’re on a course and that it’s going to end.”

Another student, Ruth, said: “It’s interesting, enjoyable and relaxed, with a good balance of theory and practical. I’ve enjoyed having the company of people with similar interests from different backgrounds. The ambience on the site is very calming.”

Hazel has 35 years’ experience in horticulture, and was a tutor at Accrington and Rossendale College before moving to Growing Well 12 years ago. Tutor Sarah McCormack has taught at Growing Well for two years and has worked in public and private gardens for the last 11 years.

No special qualifications are required to access the course other than an interest in horticulture. Basic horticultural skills and knowledge is helpful but not essential and a reasonable level of numeracy and literacy is preferable.

Course fees are £950, or may be free to individuals who are unemployed, low waged, or aged 19-23 if their highest prior attainment is less than Level 2. To book your place or for more information email hazel@growingwell.co.uk or call Growing Well on 07903 013648.

Growing Well is an accredited training centre as part of Cumbria County Council’s Community Learning and Skills programme. For full details of all courses available to adults go to www.cumbria.gov.uk/learningandskills/

Why people love studying horticulture at Growing Well

“It’s so much fun. I can’t explain the excitement of harvesting a carrot and eating it. It is lovely to meet people who are interested in horticulture and be part of a team producing food which can be eaten. The course is a mixture of theory and practical training. You build a portfolio as you go along so you don’t realise you’re on a course and that it’s going to end.” Julie, Kendal

“I’m building on a new passion that will hopefully led on to a university degree and paid work. Being able to get a formal qualification while doing plenty of practical work makes it far more useful than one without any practical work.” Patric

“It’s interesting, enjoyable and relaxed, with a good balance of theory and practical. I’ve enjoyed having the company of people with similar interests from different backgrounds. The ambience on the site is very calming.” Ruth

“The tutors are great, with good practical experience to share. It’s great to be able to do the practical tasks and gain work experience in a commercial growing environment. Nicki, Lindale

“Anybody with a keen interest in horticulture would learn a great deal on this course and have fun doing so. It’s more specific and more practical than other courses. I’ve made friendships and have a broader understanding of horticulture.” Marianne

“I have done other courses but this one is great as it’s practical as well as theory. It’s great to be a small group learning together. Not only have I learned a lot about horticulture but also my confidence has improved.” Iona

Mary awarded prestigious Churchill fellowship

New Growing Well General Manager Mary Houston in one of the polytunnels

Growing Well general manager Mary Houston has been awarded a prestigious travel grant to research similar ‘social farms’ in Norway and California.

Mary won through a tough selection procedure to be chosen as one of just 150 people from almost 1,800 applicants to win a Churchill Fellowship to research issues across a range of sectors.

The fellowships, set up on the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, offer UK citizens a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel the world to research global best practice in issues facing Britain today, and to bring back and apply cutting-edge insights and solutions to improve communities and professions across the country.

Mary, 36, who lives with partner Alec Smith and their three young children at Crook, has spent all her career in food and farming. Before taking over at Growing Well in October she was Head of Catering Development at Westmorland Family, and was previously manager of the Taste Cumbria initiative for Cumbria Tourism and the Prince’s Countryside Fund Herdwick Project to promote authentic Lakeland Herdwick.

Her Churchill Fellowship application was to study the growing global movement of social or care farms – where farm-based activity is used to help people with mental health problems or provide social or educational support.

She will travel to Norway in June to attend the European Society for Rural Sociology conference and join a working group tackling social innovation in rural areas. She will also visit a number of social farms in the country. Mary then plans to visit California later in the year and will work at the Forget Me Not Farm in Santa Rosa, where agricultural therapy is used to tackle the cycle of abuse in children and young people.

‘I would like to see a Growing Well equivalent in every district of this country, just like in Norway, and when I return I will continue my work in making this aspiration a reality.’

Mary said: “Workplaces of the future will protect and promote people’s mental health and wellbeing not through HR as we know it but in the context of individuals and their whole lives; flexible working patterns, lifelong learning opportunities and supporting people to be healthy and more active.

“Ironically, supported working environments such as Growing Well have successfully been practicing these disciplines as a means of developing emotional resilience in those recovering from poor mental health, for years.”

Mary, who grew up in Allithwaite and attended Ulverston Victoria High School and Leeds University, says that in Norway the respect for social inclusion and people’s wellbeing is formally established and supported, bringing great benefit to the whole population, while at Forget Me Not Farm in California, the therapeutic value of agriculture has been recognised and developed for many years.

“Coming from an agricultural county such as Cumbria, where we are so connected with the landscape, and working in a horticultural setting at Growing Well, I am in no doubt that being in nature, and establishing a deeper respect for the world around us is as good for us as it is for the land,” she said.

“I would like to see a Growing Well equivalent in every district of this country, just like in Norway, and when I return I will continue my work in making this aspiration a reality. Now, more than ever, our farms need to diversify and our population needs to understand the social as well as productive value that they can create for our communities. There are great opportunities here for all concerned.”

Growing Well, on a six-acre site at Low Sizergh Farm, has been working with people living with and recovering from poor mental health for more than 14 years. It provides opportunities for more than 100 people a year to volunteer in its organic growing and catering business, and acquire vocational skills and qualifications.

Employing occupational therapists, trainers and counsellors, it provides a safe, supportive working environment to nurture mental health recovery, working with people on a weekly basis to help rebuild a sense of purpose, to engage in meaningful and fulfilling activity and build hope for the future.

The farm also supplies fresh, local, organic fruit, veg and salad leaves to businesses such as Westmorland, more than 50 ‘crop share’ members receive a weekly veg box, and seasonal produce and chutneys sold at the Low Sizergh Barn farm shop.

Churchill Fellowships are open to any UK resident citizens aged 18 or over to apply, regardless of qualifications or background. Fellows are funded to travel the world for 4-8 weeks, researching innovative ideas and best practice in a practical subject of their choosing. The average grant is £6,000.

The next chance to apply for a Churchill Fellowship opens on 16 May 2019 and includes new categories on ‘Palliative and end of life care’ and ‘Physical activity: making moves for healthier lives’. Application details are online at wcmt.org.uk.

Cultivating good mental health: This is Me campaign launch

More than 120 business leaders were gathering today to launch the Cumbrian ‘This is Me’ campaign on mental health in the workplace. Mary Houston, general manager of the Kendal-based Growing Well charity, explains how the organic farm at Low Sizergh can help.

First published in The Westmorland Gazette, February 2019

Look around your office or workplace and it’s likely that one in four of you have been affected by conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress in the last year.

Today’s launch in the county of the national ‘This is Me’ campaign – which aims  to break the culture of silence around mental ill health by supporting people to tell their stories – is a welcome addition to the growing conversation around mental illness and wellbeing.

Slowly the stigma is being lifted – but there’s a still a long way to go.

Here at Growing Well we’ve been working with people living with and recovering from poor mental health for more than 14 years. We provide opportunities for more than 100 people a year to volunteer in our organic growing and catering business, and acquire vocational skills and qualifications. We provide a safe, supportive working environment to nurture mental health recovery, working with people on a weekly basis, sometimes over years, to help rebuild a sense of purpose, to engage in meaningful and fulfilling activity and build hope for the future.

For many the clear end goal is to build the skills and confidence to go back to work – and last year we introduced new, focussed Return to Work courses that have enabled more people to return to work more quickly.

For many people, recovery is a lifelong journey.

The good news is that our work has been found to be extremely effective, in both formal audits and in our annual survey of volunteers. Last week we were pleased to welcome Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron back to the farm, who praised Growing Well as “one of the most effective mental health charities I have ever come across”.

Our 2018 feedback found that 100% of volunteers who took part in the survey felt Growing Well had helped them achieve or work towards their goals, with 86% saying Growing Well was directly responsible for improvements in their mental health.

The huge impact our “excellent and supportive” team have on people’s lives is summed up in comments such as “Gives me a reason to get out of bed”; “gives me the chance to be myself and feel that is enough”; “It’s given me the confidence to integrate back into a social group and work towards getting back into paid employment.”

“It’s given me the confidence to integrate back into a social group and work towards getting back into paid employment.”


The other outcome of all this work on the farm is 15 tonnes a year of fresh, local, organic fruit and veg. Under our “Crop Share” scheme more than 50 local supporters receive a weekly bag of fabulous seasonal produce. This summer we will be expanding the scheme with 30 more bags a week available.

The produce also provides 3,000 volunteer lunches a year, freshly prepared and cooked on site in our new catering unit. Last year we introduced a new summer salad scheme, and we supply wholesale customers such as Low Sizergh Barn and Cafe, Westmorland Services and Kysty Café in Ambleside.

Like most charities, Growing Well faces funding challenges. If you are only vaguely aware of what we do, you might assume we are an organic veg business with a social mission to employ people struggling with mental health.

But a six acre veg farm could never generate enough funds to support the level and quality of individual care provided by our Occupational Therapist, counsellors and trainers and so most income is dependent on donations, sponsorship and fundraising.

We continue to receive referrals from more than 40 different sources, most of them local GPs and mental health professionals, but readers may be surprised to learn we receive no money from the NHS, despite our vital work, proven to be effective, saving the health service tens of thousands of pounds a year.

In the coming year our aim is to increase the profile of Growing Well locally and the understanding of our vital work so we can continue to deliver our vision of for people living with and recovering from poor mental health to be active, to be included in their communities and to understand their worth.

We believe that change is possible no matter how unwell someone is. You can help our mission by:

  • Joining our Crop Share scheme
  • Considering Growing Well when you are fundraising
  • Becoming a regular donor and supporter
  • Becoming a corporate supporter
  • Thinking of us when planning your legacies
  • Donating your time and expertise


For more information about our work, how to help, and if you think you, a friend or family member might benefit from our support, visit www.growingwell.co.uk