The world is our orchard: Meet the volunteers growing for Wokingham

Share Wokingham
(From left) Zoe Maynard, James Whittingham, Claire Revie, Matt Knight and Ryan Simpson hope their collaboration will act as a template for other charities and organisations to do the same for their communities across the UK

ON A mission to feed the borough, two organisations have teamed up to provide high-quality food to families.

Share Wokingham, which collects food from local supermarkets and wholesalers and redistributes it to the community, is collaborating with Freely Fruity, a charity which plants and grows fresh fruit and vegetables for local residents.

Working to feed the community

Both organisations were founded during the pandemic when communities changed the way they eat and buy food.

And now they’re working together to give people nutritious meals and high-quality produce.

Share was born out of The Grub Club, a Norreys-based organisation that supports families who normally access free school meals over the holidays.

Co-ordinator Claire Revie said that it is now supplying weekly food parcels to families, and running a daily drop-in service for food collections.

Since March, they have distributed more than 1,500 food parcels to those in need.

She told Wokingham.Today: “Our volunteers go out each night to collect food from Waitrose, M&S, Morrisons and Lidl.”

They also receive catering-sized products from Brakes, based in Earley. All the food collected would have gone to waste, but is still fresh and edible.

Share Wokingham
(From left) Claire Revie, Gez de la Pascua and Zoe Maynard are hoping they can find a new premises for Share Wokingham

Some of it comes from supermarket stock rotation, others comes from accidental over-ordering or a gesture of goodwill.

“We send our food parcels to families who have fallen through the gap,” said Ms Revie.

“That includes families supported by Kaleidoscopic UK, a local domestic abuse charity, and members of the Syrian Refugee Steering Group.”

Share also sends food to Whitley Community Development Association and Wycliffe Baptist Church in East Reading, who distribute it to their communities too.

And the scheme has also been a hit with the environmentally minded.

“We have a very wide demographic of people who visit Share, from those desperately in need to those who are passionate about zero waste,” said Ms Revie. “People think there isn’t a need for something like this in an affluent area like Wokingham, but there is. The number of people visiting us isn’t slowing down. And there are some people coming to us who might not have used food banks before. But here you don’t need a referral – there are no questions asked.”

Freely Fruity
Freely Fruity

Sustainable collaboration

Now, Share is collaborating with Freely Fruity for a long-term, sustainable supply of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables all grown within the borough.

The Freely Fruity team, James Whittingham, Ryan Simpson and Matt Knight have been cultivating a bumper crop for the past few months.

They founded the charity on the idea that “the world is our orchard”, and that healthy, fresh food should be free to the community that grows it.

Now they have grown 600 tomato plants, 400 strawberry plants, 80 raspberry plants and hundreds of peppers, courgettes and other vegetables from their temporary allotment off Mill Lane, in Sindlesham.

Environmental food choices

Mr Simpson said: “It’s fantastic that people can get fresh fruit and vegetables from these supermarket donations, but they should be able to grow their own and pick it in their communities.”

Instead, he is calling society to wake up to its environmentally-harmful food choices, and eat local, seasonal food.

“We’d like to get fruit tree planting schemes built into new developments,” he added. “And for people to be given the option when they buy a newbuild house to have the garden kitted out with planters, a green house and the equipment needed to grow their own.

“There’s no seasonality to anything we eat anymore. You can get exotic fruits flown over, all year round. But in the pandemic, we have seen people getting more involved with planting their own foods and we need to keep encouraging this.

“There’s a sense of achievement in growing your own strawberries or tomatoes. You learn a respect for food, and to stop wasting it.”

Freely Fruity
Matt Knight working in Freely Fruity’s newly-built allotment off Mill Lane, Sindlesham

Inspiring national change

Mr Simpson is keen to cut down on food waste from all areas.

“Giving food a sell-by date is giving it a death sentence,” he said. “We throw away 40 million pieces of bread each day as a country – and they’re almost all end pieces.

“It’s a mindset that needs changing.”

Ms Revie and Mr Simpson hope the collaboration between their two organisations can be a model for other people in the UK to cut down on food waste.

With Share interrupting the food cycle before it goes into the bin and Freely Fruity growing healthy, fresh, local food, the founders of both groups hope like-minded people will follow suit.

Mr Knight said: “We want to act as a template of what can be done. To be an example that can be replicated across the country.” 

A place to stay

The collaboration is facing an uncertain future. Share has been operating from Norreys Church, but as the congregation prepares to use the building again, a new premises is needed – and fast.

The team of volunteers recently received two fridges and two freezers to keep all the produce in. And the cupboard-friendly goods are stacked up to the ceiling.

Ms Revie said she is searching for suitable premises, not too far from their current location that will give the team enough space to organise and manage the donations as they arrive each day.

That way, they will be able to take on freshly picked fruit and vegetables from Freely Fruity as part of their walk-in collections and weekly food parcels.

“Ideally, we’d love to stay located in Norreys so we are close to the people we currently help,” she said.

“A central location would be amazing.

“If we could have a building large enough to share with other groups with the same ethos it could become a little support hub of its own.”

For more information, to volunteer or suggest a new venue contact Claire Revie via the Share Wokingham Facebook page

To get in touch with Freely Fruity, email: info@freelyfruity.org or search @FreelyFruityUK on Facebook.

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