The Plymouth story - Grow, Share, Cook

18 September 2015

Grow, Share, Cook is a flagship volunteer-based project in Plymouth coordinated by Tamar Grow Local and Food is Fun, addressing food poverty and healthy eating through the three steps of growing, sharing and cooking food.

How does it work?

Over the last 15 months we have trained over 60 volunteers:

  • Our grow volunteers - many of which have never grown anything before - learned the dark arts of horticulture,
  • Our share volunteers - driving around Plymouth delivering the freshly grown produce
  • Our cook volunteers - learning how to cook and communicate to classes of non-cooks

Plymouth City Council has provided two large multi-allotment sites in the city for our grow volunteers to work their magic. This is then delivered by our share volunteers using The Vegucator (a van kindly donated by Plymouth Community Homes).

>Around 200 adults and 300 children have received free food so far

>15,000 free meals will have been provided by the end of the project in May 2016 using fruit and veg grown by the volunteers

Deliveries go to our city Foodbank, soup runs and to the door of 103 of our most disadvantaged families, on a fortnightly basis for free for a year.

Future sustainability

We have plans to make the project sustainable after May 2016 by developing the commercial arm of Grow, Share, Cook to sell produce to those who can afford it, enabling us to provide a subsidised fruit and veg supply to those who can’t. A bit like a Fair Trade model where you not only get locally produced affordable food, but you also assist someone else in a disadvantaged position to eat well.

The history

To achieve this has required real dedication and focus. In February 2014, Plymouth applied to become a City of Service. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York developed the Cities of Service model to encourage people in their communities to “do their bit” and to link the impact of volunteering to city priorities. Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, backed by the Cabinet Office, announced in 2013 that it wanted to bring Cities of Service to the UK. Local authorities were invited to bid for volunteering projects that addressed evidenced need in their area.

Plymouth was successful in receiving funding over two years to deliver two specific projects – Energy Champions (to combat fuel poverty) and Grow, Share, Cook (to combat food poverty). As a result of achieving Cities of Service status we recruited a Chief Service Officer to help us scope the projects and oversee the work.

The first thing our Chief Service Officer did was make contact with Food Plymouth – a network of individuals and organisations that has healthy affordable sustainable food at the forefront of its thinking. With their support, expertise and guidance, we got the project off to an informed, supported and flying start. 

 Last autumn we launched our volunteers’ website; In the space of a month, 3000 people visited the website and we had over 300 enquiries asking what the roles entailed and how they could get involved. There was clearly a real appetite from people who want to do their foodie bit for the city and the key was just taking the time to ask them, understand their needs and pair them up with the right volunteering roles.


Our ultimate goal is to create a fairer city where everyone does their bit. By helping people in our city focus their passion into causes that they really value, with real outcomes that they can see, touch and even taste, we have achieved positive results.

Darin Halifax - the Cities of Service Chief Service Officer saysGrow, Share, Cook has been a fantastic project to co-ordinate. People with a passion assisting people with a need. We made it as easy as we could for people to get involved by supplying a bit of land and by working with delivery partners to train our volunteers and coordinate their activity. This has resulted in more food being produced than we originally planned and a projected 15,000 healthy meals being delivered which is a staggering reflection of the excellence and dedication of our volunteers. Our ambitions are to take this model and slowly increase the number of people having access to affordable healthy food by reducing the journey from ground to table, thus making it attractive to those who can afford it and subsequently accessible for those who can’t."

The true measure of whether the projects are delivering results is what the beneficiaries are telling us. One community where we have delivered food bags to 12 neighbours regularly meet up to swap their produce and recipe ideas. This is food bringing people together.

“I am eating fresh fruit and veg with the same gusto as I used to eat KFC. As it is delivered to my door each fortnight, I get a sense of excitement about what’s in the bag and how can I use it”, a beneficiary.

The social benefits have been wider than just the physiological needs, we are making a difference for people who need it the most.

"For me there was more satisfaction in helping for one day than in any of the previous 16 years with my employer", a volunteer.


Leon Ballin
Sustainable Food Cities

Sustainable Food Cities is a partnership programme run by

Soil Association

Food Matters

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Sustainable Food Cities is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 

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