Growing Better, the social enterprise that provides urban farming for better mental health, has secured up to £10,000 thanks to the AD:VENTURE start-up and growth grants, which provides businesses with the opportunity to reach their potential within the first three years of trading.
The social enterprise launched in 2016 after recognising the role that urban farming can play in supporting individuals with mental health challenges. Initially relying on polytunnels to grow baby leaf salads leaves and herbs, founder of the business, Rob Moores, quickly realised that the model was unsustainable as winter weather would not provide a commercially sustainable year-round supply to local restaurants and food outlets.
Recognising that an indoor hydroponic vertical farm would provide the year-round production facilities needed, while also allowing for the temperature and conditions to be better controlled, Rob set up a crowd-funding page, securing enough investment to put the theory into practice.
He comments: “The first couple of years were a roller coaster. We’re passionate about better mental health and our research had confirmed the role that growing produce can play in achieving that. Our challenge was growing at a commercially sustainable level all year round in polytunnels – and that made the business very seasonal – which in turn limited the support we could offer people.
“Having thought long and hard we turned to crowd-funding to raise the funds needed to invest in the hydroponic vertical farm but this left us with limited cash-flow. It was effectively one huge step forward but then we were back where we started.”
Rob and his team turned to the practical support, master classes and business sessions that are offered through the AD:VENTURE programme, which in turn provided the advice, guidance and support the company required to put in place a plan that would focus on future growth.
Rob adds: “Accessing practical support from AD:VENTURE allowed us to build up our business plan and in turn to consider other options. We realised that we had the potential, with funding support, to commit to appointing three new members to the team over 2018. This in turn would allow us to support more people and to grow the business using the contributions made by AD:VENTURE as cash flow.
“Knowing that we have a business model in place that we could scale up was great. As well as working with an increasing number of people that have mental health illnesses, we have also started to supply several restaurants, which in turn gives us the funds to put back into the business.
“It’s absolutely fair to say that we wouldn’t be in the position we are today if it had not been for the practical and funding support offered by AD:VENTURE. We would encourage any eligible enterprise to do the same.”
Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Leeds City Council’s executive member for employment, enterprise and opportunity comments: “Growing Better is a great example of a social enterprise that has embraced all that AD:VENTURE has to offer. Accessing the practical support and funding programme we have in place has allowed the business to move forward and that is what we are all about.”
Since the funding was granted, the company has already taken on a new full-time member of staff, expanded its offering to provide growing kits for consumers and has also extended its engagement to work with schools to explain the benefits to home-grown produce without the use of pesticides or chemicals.
A recent public consultation was also held to share future plans to launch a Community Farm at West Leeds Activity Centre in Armley.