How Sunderland Homegrown uses their nursery to improve the lives of those with disabilities

Social therapeutic horticulture site, Sunderland Homegrown, has used social investment to provide many with training and purpose at their nursery in Thompson Park

Providing training opportunities to vulnerable youth has been one of the main driving forces for Sunderland Homegrown CIC to approach social investment from Big Issue Invest. To grow their reach, they knew they would need to expand from an allotment to a fully operating garden centre.

At commercial scale, Sunderland Homegrown produce about 2,000 plants per year, even supplying Durham Cathedral and Lumley Castle with flowers for their beautifully presented gardens. The plant sales are reinvested into their partnership work with Sunderland College, where they offer work placements and internships for young people with learning or behaviour issues.

Watch Sunderland Homegrown’s story below.

Gary Hillery, Manager of Sunderland Homegrown CIC: Hi my name is Gary Hillary and I’m one of the managers at Sunderland Homegrown Community Interest Company. We work with the community offering training and social therapeutic. We’ve been here about two years now and we’ve got a full working nursery going. We produce about 2,000 plants a year, and we give a lot really good people a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The area we work in is Southwick which is one of the most deprived areas in the North East. We work with a lot of people on a spectrum of social isolation and with a lot of unemployed, so we are trying to help improve their qualifications. When they finished at the end of the day, they feel really proud of what they’ve done, which we feel is a good reason to be here.

Debbie Byers, Director of Sunderland Homegrown CIC: This site was an old council site in the middle of Thompson Park. There was nothing on it at all. It needed to be redeveloped and landscaped. We got some funding which was for all of the polytunnels and the green houses, everything that you see on the site. We needed some money for wedges and stock and stuff. We were introduced to Big Issue Invest and they’ve taken a massive interest in us because of the social impact side as well as the financial.

Kevin Lloyd-Evans: I’m Kevin Llyod-Evans from Big Issue Invest.

Linda Rutter, Social Enterprise Consultant for Sunderland Homegrown CIC: I’m Linda Rutter. I’m a Social Enterprise Consultant in the North East.

Kevin Lloyd-Evans, Investment Director: “We invested in Sunderland Homegrown because of the people, and the people had relevant experience and what they had was really good support. Part of that support was provided by Linda.”

Linda Rutter: “I’ve been working with Homegrown since the beginning, and what we needed was somebody, an investor, who could understand the business from the get go. Big Issue Invest not only understood the financial models but understood the people as well, and the market that we were trying to operate in. Even though we were a startup, it’s really difficult in terms of expressing your business skills to access finance. Big Issue Invest really understood that. So they took the time to get to know Deb and Gary and the business, and understood the other funding that we had in place. Then helped them understand the role of investment.  So it wasn’t just about the money that was going in the bank, it was about the people who were running the business and the role of the money that was coming in. It didn’t just stop when the money came in the bank. Kevin has been really good. Big Issue Invest has been brilliant in terms of helping us manage the money, helping us manage the contracts and helping us better understand business development. So Big Issue Invest don’t just provide loans, they provide loans with support, and I think that’s really critical when working with social enterprises.”