In early March 2020, the Providence Row roof garden was busy with volunteers and garden trainees helping Julie, our gardener, to harvest the produce and sow more crops to be used for lunches in the resource centre. The garden trainees, part of our employment and training programme, were developing key skills to support their employability while the kitchen trainees were turning the produce into meals and in the process learning vital catering skills to support their future lives.
When Covid hit, in late March, the garden closed. The focus for the organisation shifted overnight to emergency support for rough sleepers, ensuring they were off the streets, safe and supported as well as providing ongoing care for vulnerable people in supported housing all over the East End. Crisis support has always been an important part of our work and for the coming months it became the primary focus of our attention.
As restrictions began to ease, in August the garden reopened and Julie starting growing crops again. This time the produce was intended to support our food programme led by Craig our Kitchen & Training Coordinator. Throughout lockdown the team had delivered meals to those living in temporary accommodation and on the streets throughout the East End. The intention was now to grow the food to support this effort. At 100m2, with every square cm filled, the garden can support up to 100 different types of produce. Julie started sowing winter salads; rocket, lettuces, spinach & herbs, food that would be fast to grow and that would quickly support the production of meals.
By September, with the support of volunteers, Julie was picking crops and sending them straight down to the kitchen where Craig, with a team of volunteers, would turn them into nutritionally dense meals for immediate delivery. From August - October the garden produced 74kg of fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs, equivalent of 875 meals, from October to May 2021 an amazing 79kg of produce has been made into 985 meals.
Our food programme is ongoing and its impact has been far reaching. Between October 2020 – May 2021, 14,768 meals were delivered to those living in temporary accommodation and on the streets, this was been supported by 21 volunteers giving an incredible 1554 hours of their time. The intention is to continue the programme until lockdown is eased and our Day Centre is fully open to visitors. The Day Centre provides a space to meet and connect with others over a cup of tea as well as providing much needed nutritious breakfasts and hot lunches to our community all served by our team of volunteers and trainee cooks.