Student transforms lives with community projects

September 2020

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Writtle University College student and community organiser, Elliot Wollen, has been changing lives within the Harlow area. In 2013 he launched 'Herts & Essex Community Farm', a not-for-profit project that produces organic food for volunteers, homeless support organisations and local residents.

 Elliot spent time in Australia, where he travelled and gained hands-on experience on a variety of farms. He said: "I was shocked by the massive amount of food that was wasted due to it simply not being 'perfect'." After his return to the UK, Elliot learnt that his hometown had a five year waiting list for allotments. He decided to launch a new growing project that would benefit the local community while producing sustainable food.

 The farm, which covers around half an acre in Fold Croft, Harlow, has attracted over 200 volunteers, who learn gardening and farming techniques.

Elliot said: "Once the project was started we realised that the impact of the community farm was far greater than just having fresh fruits and vegetables. We provide a safe space for people meet other people in the community, learn new skills and gain mental health support. Children learn about where food comes from and the farm offers biodiversity benefits, physical health benefits and much more." 

The project provides opportunities for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems to learn practical and personal skills. The farm also supports organic gardening and conservation with wildlife habitats and promotes local fruit tree varieties.

 Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the farm ran affordable, family-focused events throughout the year. Each summer, 'Farm Fest' a free music festival showcased local music, food, arts, games and crafts to around 1,000 people.

In 2020, the farm adapted to changing circumstances and continued to support the local area. Elliot explained: "During the lockdown the community farm worked alongside the local council and other organisations to provide free grow packs to over 600 residents in Harlow. This gave people the opportunity to learn about food growing, many families got involved with the project and children were keen amateur growers."

Elliot is also a founder of the 'Harlow Soup' initiative. This regular get-together crowdfunds local community, creative, entrepreneurial projects that benefit Harlow Town. Following a shared community meal and live music, four projects pitch their idea to the people in attendance. Elliot explains: "audience members vote on their favourite project, the project with the most votes is awarded all the money collected on the door. Harlow Soup has raised £7384.43 so far!"

Harlow Soup has funded 16 projects so far, from resources and training for a men's mental health charity to bathroom facilities at a drop-in centre for homeless people. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the event went online. Many of the post-lockdown projects have supported organisations impacted by the pandemic, including a local foodbank. The events also helped supply PPE for frontline workers.

In addition to his community work, Elliot has been a staunch supporter of Writtle University College's academic community. He has put his first-hand knowledge of crop production to good use, studying a BSc (Hons) Horticulture.