A GREEN-FINGERED initiative to help autistic people take part in therapeutic horticultural activities has received a “massive” boost from a North-East building society.

Daisy Chain Project has been awarded nearly £15,000 by Darlington Building Society to pay for a large polytunnel at its pioneering base on Teesside.

The Society annually donates five per cent of its profits to good causes in the local communities it serves – and that commitment was recently guaranteed up to 2025.

As part of that pledge, a cheque for £14,818 has been handed over to Daisy Chain’s Head of Development and Economic Generation, Johnathon Pickard, by the Society’s chief executive, Andrew Craddock.

Mr Pickard explained that the money would be used to buy a second polytunnel at the charity’s site at Norton, near Stockton, to enable autistic people to grow their own produce.

Daisy Chain, which supports around 2,800 families, had installed a polytunnel before the coronavirus pandemic, but the charity has seen a significant increase in demand for its services during lockdown.

With indoor facilities subject to tighter social distancing measures, Daisy Chain applied to the Society for help to develop their garden facilities in the form of a second polytunnel.

“With winter rapidly approaching, we need a space which offers shelter but also allows young people and adults to engage in therapeutic social activity. Our programme of horticultural activities gives service-users a real sense of purpose and achievement,” said Mr Pickard.

“Thanks to Darlington Building Society, the new polytunnel will make a massive difference to the work we do, giving us the chance to carry on our work all year round.”

The work will involve growing and harvesting produce, and creating compost that can be used to refill the raised beds, so that the project becomes self-sustainable.

Daisy Chain’s coffee shop is being redesigned with additional safety in mind and is due to open next month, with produce such as tomatoes and lettuce – grown by the service-users – being incorporated into the menu. There are longer-term plans to make jams and chutneys.

Mr Craddock said: “Daisy Chain is such an important charity, and we were very impressed with the work they are doing to support local families. We have a staff group, which decides how the money from our five per cent pledge should be distributed, and they voted unanimously to support this fantastic project.”

Groundworks will start soon to prepare for the installation of the new polytunnel in February, and staff from the building society will be given the opportunity to help.

Mr Craddock added: “We encourage all of our staff to commit to two days a year to volunteering, and it would be nice if we were involved in the groundworks.”