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Case Studies

Come in and smell the roses: Nurturing wellbeing in Sunderland 

Sunderland Home Grown is a horticultural project that’s dedicated to growing plants and nurturing people. They have a unique approach; they see big potential in every moment, and care deeply about what they do every day.

Sunderland Home Grown is a rich environment to help young people and adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems to thrive and enjoy life by creating training and employment opportunities as well as promoting social and therapeutic horticulture.  

They offer young people accredited and non-accredited horticulture training programmes and supported work placements, including practice-based horticulture, site maintenance, production of plants and produce, retail experience and dealing with the public. The young people are supported by health mentors and a horticultural trainer. Over the years they have developed links with schools, colleges and academies and can offer young people new life experiences as well as the joy of growing produce.  

Gary Hillery is their “hands on” Manager and Director, with many years’ experiences of working with disabled young people and teaching horticulture. Gary is now a busy project manager for the centre’s two new projects funded by the Youth Investment Fund, and he’s turning his hand to constructing the flat-pack projects developed using Modern Methods of Construction.

A Youth Investment Fund grant of over £468K will create two exciting new initiatives to help young people thrive.  


Everyone who comes to Sunderland Home Grown has a unique contribution to make and no matter what they do, whether they are potting plants or working in the shop, they all play a significant role in growing our produce. Young people love being here and get real joy out of seeing that they have grown something and made it happen. It’s quite remarkable given that many young people who live in the city don’t know how vegetable are produced. And everyone who comes here, always leaves with a big smile on their face.

Gary Hillery
Manager and Director, Sunderland Home Grown

The first will include a community workshop space, a commercial glass house and a new classroom and training centre. It will also fund a tarmacked outdoor space, which will make a real difference in wet weather, making it more accessible for wheelchair users and it means the wheels don’t have to be hosed down and cleaned every time. The second part of the build is a new garden centre facility. Work is well underway and its starting to look fantastic. A new polytunnel, canopy and fencing are already in place and will soon be joined by a new garden centre shop, created offsite from a “flat-packed” build kit. The building work is due to complete in early autumn 2023. 

The funded projects are good for young people’s mental health and good for the environment. The second element of their build is an eco-site, it is off-grid, sustainable, the storage containers have solar panels and a huge water tank to collect rainwater.  

Funding from the Youth Investment Fund is great for Sunderland Home Grown and the wider Sunderland Community – it’s a real boost to have the investment. Alongside giving more young people the chance to learn new skills and enjoy the gardens, the new projects will be a resource for all the community, hosting school visits and enabling other youth projects to use the space. It will also provide young offenders with fulfilling opportunities to do their community service in a peaceful setting.  Welcoming the Youth Investment Fund grant, Gary adds:

“The news of securing a Youth Investment Fund grant is still sinking in. We’re such a small company and the difference it will make is mind-blowing. It means we can reach more young people, create more joy, and be there for future generations. Sunderland Home Grown is a place of mindfulness and wellness, it’s not just about learning new skills, it’s also a chance to come in and smell the roses.”  

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