Seeds for Change

North Devon Homes

In the Barnstaple area of North Devon much of North Devon Homes (NDH) social housing developments built in the 1960’s have a large amount of green space and garden space which today lacks any clear function and offers little value in today’s society. These areas have become characterised by high rates of vandalism, and a fear of crime.

Project Overview

In October 2009, North Devon Homes Ltd (NDH) in response to consultation made a commitment to its customers to develop a number of these gardens for the use of the wider community in Forches and Gorwell. Accordingly, stakeholders from Health and Education were invited to join a project to create a community agriculture enterprise and develop an effective means of working in partnership.

The project intends to support and mentor community volunteers for three years using a strategy that ensures the project’s success. It is considered as an "access pathway” project with a bigger picture that does not only promote growing your own food and increasing skills but also act as a vehicle for other agencies to tackle healthy eating, cooking on a budget, making "budget shopping” fun, increasing community capital, self esteem, self confidence and community cohesion.


Start-up capital and revenue funding was provided through the multi agency steering group;

  • The PCT provided £15,000,
  • Local councillors provided £1,400,
  • Devon County Council provided £1,000, and 
  • NDH provided £5,000 all of which enabled the capital build side of the project and gave the community a tangible asset to take ownership of from day one.

Moreover, Petroc (local FE College), in partnership with NDH secured a further £29,000 (from the Learning & Skills Improvement Service) to provide volunteers with training.

The Project

Underused land in both communities was set aside to support the initiative. In Yeo Valley/Gorwell a condemned play area of 220 sq metres which had been decommissioned and in Forches three hugely overgrown gardens have been converted into one area of 550 sq metres.

In September 2009 NDH had begun involving local residents of all ages who wanted to play an active role in the project. Devon Community Council pledged three years lottery funded support for the volunteers, which began in November 2009 with a Planning 4 Real event hosted by the local community association and attended by 30 volunteers from both communities.

By November both gardens had been established with raised beds and gravel pathways laid.

What the project needed next was horticultural expertise to ensure the community could be supported through the first two crucial growing seasons in a way that they felt comfortable with.

Actavis Pharmaceuticals who work in partnership with NDH agreed to pay a professional horticulturist for 16 hours a week to work and train volunteers. Colin brought to the project the focus which allowed the volunteers to drive the direction of the initiative through the first year. Allowing people to grow and experience all the highs and lows of growing food organically. Not least the sourcing of seeds, manure and tools to make the best use of the funding available.

Planting and growing of crops, did not make the first year a profitable one, as the aim was to build a sense of community and create productive use from land that previously had no use.

Seating areas were provided, designed and built by local people. Families and children began to regularly use the gardens during the weekends, local residents adopted the gardens as a peaceful safe place to go and sit. This community ownership has meant the gardens are far better utilised which increased the levels of self-policing and has resulted in no vandalism on either of the two sites.

Yeo Valley Primary school brought to the project half an allotment, greenhouse space and a pilot veggie box scheme. In partnership with NDH lottery funding was applied for under the Changing Spaces Local Food funding stream which was successful in gaining £29,000 to engage with the entire community, and be able to extend the veggie box pilot scheme in year three of the project.

The partnership working with Petroc College, the Community Council of Devon and Grow Jigsaw provided the volunteers with training opportunities. Some of the courses attended were making jams and preserves, food hygiene and vegetable maintenance.

The project won first prize at the North Devon Show on August 4, 2011.

Community Involvement

The Seeds for Change project acknowledged that it is important, not to assume that simply creating community garden schemes would enable the community to develop a sustainable community social enterprise.

This level of community involvement has built a sense of ownership for the gardens that will be cherished for years to come. It is important to sustain this level of engagement from local people, especially the younger ones so that it continues beyond the early days and is sustainable into the future. Young people soon grow up and each generation of young people needs to be engaged. This is why NDH have encouraged the involvement of local primary schools as an important partner in the project.

It is also noteworthy to mention that this project is not in some leafy suburb, but in an area where;

  • 69% of the volunteers may be on some form of benefit,
  • 68% of 16 year olds leave school with little or no qualifications,
  • A high proportion of the adult community have numeracy and literacy problems, and unemployment is twice the county average.
  • Many people in these communities suffer with low self esteem and confidence, and have little or no aspirations to be able to find employment
  • Health issues are above the county average
  • 49% of children in primary school are on free school dinners
  • and 47% of three year olds start their educational journey well below the expected attainment levels for 3 year olds

Learning experience

The main learning over the last 15 months has been at grassroots level learning through hands on experience within the gardens. With no water on site the volunteers carried water from their own homes to the gardens (NDH have now secured Awards for All funding for standpipes).

With little funding creativity has been key. NDH staff sourced free horse manure, bagged it up and delivered 400 sacks to the gardens for the volunteers to dig in. Free trees for the fruit orchard were sourced from various agencies including NDH and local councillors.

Petroc College strand of the project brought funding to promote the growth of the community Agriculture Social Enterprise which will be the aims of the 2nd year of the project 2010/2011. The project, now in its second year, works with customers to collectively grow home produced fruit and vegetables. The expansion of the project aims to adopt more land that lacks any clear function and offers little value to customers.


“It has been a real eye opener to watch this grow from a run down group of gardens into the community green space it has become. In 18 short months we have been through our first season and our first snow and come out the other side with the knowledge we succeeded as a community group.”

Carol Lewis, Community Garden Volunteer and Community Lead on the project.

“All the people that volunteer at the garden believe that as we are growing in ourselves the project can only get bigger and better.” 

Mandy Chapple, Community Garden Volunteer.

“I am very proud of being part of the community garden and of where I live."

Sam Kavanagh, Community Garden Volunteer.