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  • Lesley Ellerby

Spotlight on small charities: Grow

Updated: Jun 21

Grow is a youth development charity that works with marginalised and vulnerable young people in Sheffield. Grow’s senior marketing and fundraising manager Lesley Ellerby explains the critical role they play in helping young people find positive employment and training opportunities.

A young person uses a watering can to water a raised bed

Tell us about Grow’s work and aims


We're a nature-based youth development charity in Sheffield. We work with marginalised and vulnerable young people aged 16 to 24 across the city's deprived communities. Many of those we work with struggle to access support and employment due to mental ill-health, social isolation and lack of employment prospects.  


We're firm believers in the positive power of nature and gardening. So we use it as a vehicle to help young people break the cycle of mental ill-health and social isolation, and equip them with the confidence and tools needed to thrive in life. Our end goal is to help young people into a place of sustained and positive employment or training.  


We run a series of nature-based programmes to help us achieve this:

  • Walk and Talk: a mentoring programme for young people facing mental ill-health.

  • Grow Programme: a five-week course introducing young people to soft skills integral to thriving at work, such as teamwork, managing personal motivation, problem solving, and CV writing.

  • Grow Gardeners: a work-based learning programme for young people facing barriers to employment. Trainees work part-time for 16 weeks and earn a real living wage.


How are you making a difference to the lives of young people?


We have lots of examples, but here’s Tom’s story:

“Since covid, my confidence dipped drastically due to being so isolated. I couldn’t see my wider family and friends and missed being social. Then I moved to Sheffield from Essex, which increased my feelings of isolation. Until I came along to Grow, I just hung out with my sister’s friends and didn’t have any friends of my own. 
Being outside and trying new things [through Grow] has been so beneficial. Seeing people every day has helped me build confidence. Since coming to Grow I’ve had more of a routine, and […] a reason to get out of the house.” 

We’re incredibly proud of Tom, who secured a Green Space Apprenticeship with Sheffield City Council while completing our programme.

Tell us about the impact you’re having within Sheffield

Sheffield's mental health waiting lists for psychotherapies is currently four times longer than government guidelines. Many young people are having to wait nine months for an initial assessment.


These young people are struggling and aren’t accessing the support they need in suitable time frames. We believe our work plays a crucial role in supporting 16- to 24-year-olds who are underserved by squeezed statutory services. 


In 2023:

  • our Walk and Talk trainees reported a 50% increase in wellbeing and a 31.3% increase in social connection 

  • our Grow Programme trainees reported a 17% increase in wellbeing, a 20% increase in social connection, and a 67.5% positive employment/training status 12 months after completing the programme

  • our Grow Gardeners trainees reported a 15% increase in wellbeing, a 14% increase in social connection, and an 80% positive employment/training status 12 months after completing the programme.


Across our programmes, we’re aiming to see: 

  • a 15% increase in wellbeing 

  • a 15% reduction in social isolation

  • a 75% of trainees achieving positive employment/training status.  

A younger and older woman walk down a grassy bank in conversation

How do volunteers play a part in the running of Grow, and what impact do they have?

Our volunteers play a vital role at Grow. Currently, they have the greatest impact on our Walk and Talk programme. The programme’s volunteer led, with one paid staff member who delivers volunteer training sessions and onboards young people, matching them to mentors. Without the help and support of our volunteers, this programme wouldn’t exist. 


Volunteers also provide crucial support in other areas, such as office and site maintenance, admin support, event delivery, fundraising and Grow Farm development. As a small charity, we have limited resources, so we’re immensely grateful for the time and expertise our volunteers can give us.  

What are some of the challenges you face? 

There are many! The challenges impacting us the most are the growing mental health crisis, long waiting times for statutory support, the cost-of-living crisis, and the challenging fundraising landscape we find ourselves in.


Our grant success rate has halved, yet the demand has dramatically increased. 


How do you feel small charities like yours could be better supported? 

Opportunities to raise awareness of Grow and get our name out there are always welcome. On some occasions it’s led us to some key funders who weren't aware of us.


Support with fundraising, to help us diversify our funding mix would be great too – particularly in the areas of corporate partnership, legacy and regular giving. 


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