Getting stuck in at Grow to Work

22 June 2017

To celebrate Learning Disability Week, we talk to Grow to Work, a social enterprise in Scotland that supports people with learning disabilities to develop new skills and find work. They have been receiving surplus food through FareShare FoodCloud for almost a year.

Gregor and his wife Deborah started Grow to Work (G2W) for their son.

“My eldest son, who is now 22, has autism, with learning difficulties, and when he was leaving school we were told that college and further education wasn’t an option, it wasn’t appropriate for him,” Gregor said. “We were also concerned about employment opportunities.”

Their son grew up on a farm and had always been an outdoors-person, and Deborah and Gregor wanted him to be able to continue being in the environment he loves. So five years ago, they decided set up a service on their farm for their son and for other people with learning disabilities.

Training and work opportunities

Grow to Work is a self-funding social enterprise that recruits young people with learning disabilities and provides them with the opportunity to contribute to a working environment. They work on the farm and provide contract gardening, horticulture, and building services.

They also work on substantial, long-term projects – like a fully insulated summer house, with a complicated structure, windows and floor boards.

On an open day, which happens every year, the general public can visit the farm, see the work that G2W does, and inquire about the price of their projects.

“And as I say, we’ve got people with quite severe disabilities who are participating,” Gregor said. “We have an open day every year, and people can see what these young lads are capable of doing. People say did you do that? Can you do that for me?”

A hearty meal for all

It was Deborah who insisted that G2W be open to other young people, and not just for their son. She comes from a farming family, and therefore treats everyone at G2W as a farm worker. At lunch time, after several hours of hard work, everyone gets a hearty meal.

G2W have signed up FareShare Foodcloud, and they pick up surplus food from their local Tesco store once a week. That food helps feed the people who come through the farm every day.

The FareShare Foodcloud services have contributed on a number of levels,” Gregor said.

For one, the trainees look forward to the weekly pick-up, as they’re excited to see what foods are included in the collection.

Pastries, like fruit pies and donuts, are treats for those at G2W. Bread rolls are great for the trainees to take home and make into sandwiches.

And on some weeks we tend to get masses of fruit or masses of vegetables, which we turn into chutneys, soups and marmalades,” Gregor said.

Before coming to G2W, some of the trainees aren't  keen on fruit and vegetables, so Gregor and Deborah find ways to subtly introduce them to healthy foods – like calling a dish by another name, or adding a bit of cream to a vegetable soup.

Building confidence

The initial purpose of G2W was to provide employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities – food was a practical, necessary addition. But Gregor said that people consistently reflect that the food was the best part of their experience.

Many trainees who come through G2W have never previously worked, and see themselves as unemployable. Through G2W, they can gain the skills and confidence to pursue further educational training or enter the workforce.

FareShare provides good quality surplus food to over 300 charities and community groups supporting people with learning disabilities across the UK. Visit our getting food page to find out more about receiving surplus food for your charity, and sign up.