A FOOD growing project has been awarded a prestigious volunteering award after its service to the community through the coronavirus pandemic.

Volunteers from Willow Hey Community Project, in Farnworth, recently received a commendation from the Mayor of Bolton and have since been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The award has been given in recognition of their eight years of volunteering to develop a community organic food growing site to help reduce local food poverty.

The project initially engaged local men, who were isolated through bereavement, long-term illness or unemployment, who needed a positive social outlet and encouraged them to come together in their community to grow organic food together - allowing them to make new friends and eventually widen their support networks.

The produce grown is then shared out among the volunteers, participants, and New Bury Food Pantry, who give out food parcels to those suffering hardship in the area.

Prior to lockdown volunteers have established many activities to engage the local community, including joinery and woodcraft projects supporting traditional skills.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK, and is given to ‘outstanding groups of volunteers whose level of initiative and impact are truly exceptional’.

It was created in 2002 to celebrate the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation - and is the MBE for volunteer groups, which is awarded for life.

The group’s community development manager Anthony Holt said: “It’s a massive achievement to be recognised on this scale.

“The volunteers have helped a lot of people who have been struggling with their mental health and loneliness - especially over the last year.

“We have all stuck together through this and are coming out strong on the other side.”

The community project now supports other community growing sites across the borough sharing skills, tools and equipment to encourage more groups to care about their environment and bring local neglected green spaces into good use for community benefit, organic food growing and outdoor enjoyment for all across Bolton.