A PROJECT which helps people to grow their own fruit and vegetables is playing a part in combatting loneliness.

Get Out More CIC and its Edible Streets project is among initiatives across the UK that have stepped-up to support people feeling isolated during the pandemic.

The project, which has been awarded almost £9,000 of National Lottery funding to bring people together by making gardening accessible to older residents, has been highlighted by the National Lottery Community Fund during Loneliness Awareness Week.

The fund has been focusing on how local charities and community groups are helping to tackle social isolation in their areas.

Over the past five years, almost £700 million of National Lottery funding has been distributed to charities working to address loneliness and social isolation and build connections and relationships.

In Yorkshire & Humber alone, 318 projects have received a share of over £13.4 million since the start of the pandemic to tackle the issue.

The money received by Keighley-based Get Out More has enabled the project to provide gardening equipment, planters, compost, seeds, plants and fruit trees to aspiring gardeners in more-disadvantaged areas of the town.

Weekly visits have helped green-fingered residents aged between 55 and 90 to grow their own fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs in gardens or hanging and wall baskets where outdoor space is limited.

The gardening sessions have helped to create a shared interest between neighbours, sparking conversations that have brought the community closer together. Sessions have been held both with individual households and with socially-distanced groups – planting-up hanging baskets with flowers and herbs.

Participants are encouraged and helped to grow all kinds of produce including pear and cherry trees, gooseberry bushes, potatoes, runner beans, rhubarb, strawberries, nasturtiums and lavender, as well as herbs such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano and sage.

According to the National Lottery Community Fund’s most recent Community Research Index – a survey of more than 7,000 people across the UK – almost half of respondents said that tackling loneliness and isolation was an important priority for the year ahead.

And research also reveals that the number of people in the UK feeling “often” or “always” lonely has jumped by more than a million since last year – from 2.6 million to 3.7 million.

Annie Berrington, managing director of Get Out More CIC, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players we have been able to bring people together through gardening, enabling them to share common experiences with their neighbours, while learning to grow their own produce and spending time outdoors improving their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Get Out More found that there were many older members of the community in Keighley feeling lonely, suffering from depression and feeling bored due to inactivity.

“The results of the project so far are fantastic, and residents are excited to see the first fruits appearing on their trees. Neighbours are helping each other out and feeling happier and more active. The project is going from strength to strength, with double the number of participants from the start of the scheme as word spreads and more community members want to join in.”

The National Lottery Community Fund has also joined forces with the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the Local Connections Fund, a £4 million programme designed to help build connections within communities.

Earlier this year, more than 850 community groups benefited from the first round of Local Connections Fund grants, with the second round opening to applications on June 28.

For further information, visit tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/programmes/local-connections-fund.