‘Sustainable Lives’ sparks a local resident’s new career ambitions

Two years ago Gemma’s son started primary school, leaving her isolated and searching for a new positive direction for her life. A chance meeting with an old friend led her to join the EU funded Sustainable Lives project in Newquay, and step into a new exciting future.

European funding from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Programme is playing a vital role in transforming the day to day lives of thousands of local residents. Since 2014, the programme has invested £95m from the European Social Fund into 53 funded projects across the region to help residents develop new skills and qualifications so they can progress their careers or find employment.

One of these projects is Sustainable Lives. Set up just over a year ago by Newquay Community Orchard, a green space built by the community offering opportunities for volunteering and education, Sustainable Lives is a ground breaking community programme designed to give people the opportunity to learn simple self-sufficiency skills as part of a wider ambition to create a better and more sustainable future for all.

Single parent Gemma moved to Newquay when her children were very small. Having given up her previous career to focus her time and energy on meeting the needs of her autistic daughter and young son, she found herself feeling isolated when he joined his older sister at school.

It was during an after school cooking session organised by Cornwall Food Foundation at her son’s primary school that Gemma first heard of Sustainable Lives. After first going to a breakfast club at the Newquay Community Orchard site, Gemma then became involved with the Sustainable Lives project and began cooking at the volunteers’ lunch club.

Liaising with the centre’s horticultural club to choose fresh produce for the meals led to an interest in the principle of growing, harvesting, cooking and then eating food.

“While I knew the word ‘sustainability’, I had not really thought about what it meant in practice” she explained. “I then had the chance to attend a Climate Change Summit held at Eden where I heard an amazing talk from one of the guest speakers. This made me want to do something more and I came home and immediately began looking at courses in sustainable development.”

Having been accepted on a Masters course at the University of Sussex, Gemma is now juggling part time study with caring for her children. “Covid has made this slightly more challenging than I expected as I have also been home schooling my son at the same time as completing my course work” she laughed.

However, Gemma remains very excited about the future and is looking at the possibility of becoming a sustainable development consultant. “Becoming part of Sustainable Lives changed my life” she said. “I would not have gone down this path if it had not been the support I have received from the project.”

Running until 2023 with a target of supporting 130 people, Sustainable Lives encourages individuals and communities to embrace sustainable ways of living.

“Built by the community for the community is really what we’re all about at the orchard.” explained Becky Sparkes, Change Coach at Newquay Community Orchard. “Sustainable Lives enables us to draw together volunteers from all walks of life and very diverse backgrounds and create an environment where we can all share our skills and life experiences and work together to create a brighter future.”

As part of the Brexit deal it was agreed that existing EU funded programmes such as the €600 million CIoS Growth Programme and its associated projects would be completed.
For further information about the programme and the support available to individuals visit: www.cornwallislesofscillygrowthprogramme.org.uk