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Working together: Incredible Education and Age UK

By Sarah Ward

Critchley House, run by Age UK Salford, is a bright and welcoming social centre and tea garden where older people meet, join groups, learn new skills and enjoy the company of others to help combat and reduce social isolation.

Since 2015, supported by Incredible Education, a group of older people attending Critchley House have developed an edible garden at Critchley Cafe and two sites in the community.

Since March 2015, Incredible Education has received funding from NHS Salford Clinical Commissioning Group and Salford City Council to support educational activities for older people and started working with Age UK Salford at Critchley House.  At the start of a 20 week course, run by Ian at Incredible Education, no-one knew each other, but the group of around 8 older people (since increased to 12) wanted to learn and get involved in growing food.  Everyone attending the group had their own reasons for coming and for many it was an ideal opportunity to meet new people, talk, keep active and learn some new skills – or share their existing gardening insights!

One of the people involved in the group, 77 year old Arthur*, was bereaved a few years ago and needed to adjust to living his life without his wife.  Arthur and his wife had enjoyed gardening together, so when he saw the opportunity to get involved in the gardening project he jumped at the chance to share the enjoyment of gardening with other people again.  Commenting on his involvement with the group, Arthur said, “It all made such a difference to my life as it got me out of the house and I made many friends. Going to the cafe gives me something to look forward to.”

The Critchley House Centre Manager, Nichola, has noticed a real change in the people attending the group, “At the end of the project I have witnessed individuals grow in confidence through learning a new skill and forming new friendship networks.  Some members have gone on to join other groups together at the centre and arrange to meet outside of the usual weekly group gathering.”

After two years of being supported by funding and Incredible Education, the group have become formally constituted as Chiefs (Critchley House Incredible Edible Food Swinton) and continue to provide opportunities for gardening and growing food in public places.  People from the local community can come along and harvest any of the crops, join the group or just appreciate the work of the group members to make an otherwise bland area look like an oasis of home grown food.

Incredible Education is a learning organisation and received funding to help set up this group, but there’s loads any incredible edible group can learn from this experience.  There are real benefits for older people to get involved in incredible edible groups, both for their own health and wellbeing and also for the growing knowledge they can bring to the group.  This has been a great partnership between Incredible Education and Age UK Salford, and both established organisations have supported the group in a way that, over time, it has become independent and not reliant on formal funding streams – sustainability has always been part of the plan, and stand the group in a great position to continue providing social activities and freshly grown food to members of their local community.

* Not his real name.