Burd has received donations from the likes of Gary Lineker and Steven Bartlett. Image: Michele Theil
When Carly Burd first shared the story of her vandalised allotment on TikTok, she had no idea how far it would reach.
Burd, a mother-of-three, set up her allotment last July as the cost-of-living crisis ramped up, aiming to give food to the most vulnerable members of her local community.
The initiative, called A Meal On Me With Love, grows fruit and vegetables and delivers food parcels to those on benefits, disabled people, pensioners and people on low-incomes. Over the last nine months she had fed over 1,600 people.
Her aim has been to help those in food poverty, but she was devastated one morning earlier this month to discover that saboteurs had, overnight, climbed over the fence and spread salt across the land, destroying her plantings and rendering the soil unusable. It won’t be viable to grow anything on the land until the salt is washed away or the soil is replaced entirely.
“I was heartbroken,” she said.
“I couldn’t understand how someone could be so evil to do something like that. It affected so much, from wildlife to me not being able to feed families, and it really affected me,” Burd, who has multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus, told The Big Issue.
You may have already heard of Burd: she went viral on TikTok with her emotional video, which has received nearly five million views to date. In it, she said: “I hope it makes you happy. But do you know what? You won’t stop me. I’ll just pick it all up and carry on.”
Essex Police are continuing to investigate the attack on her allotment. Chief Inspector Paul Austin, District Commander for Harlow, said in a statement: “Carly is naturally devastated about this mindless act, which has caused real harm to her efforts to help those most in need in Harlow. We take all matters of criminal damage seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation.”
After Burd’s video began gaining traction on social media, the donations began pouring in to her pre-existing Go Fund Me page, which she’d set up in September to raise £4,000 – less than two per cent of what has now been raised – to buy equipment for weed clearing and funds that would allow her to continue providing free food to local residents who are struggling.
But despite her story being symbolic of how social media can come together and be a force for good, Burd has struggled with her newfound virality.
“It scares me to be honest with you. I can’t look at TikTok or Go Fund Me anymore because it literally gives me anxiety. I absolutely love the support, and I’m blown away by it all, but it’s a lot of pressure because I want to do the right thing and make sure it goes in the right place,” Burd said.
She finds it hard to get around the fact she’s “on every platform now” and that people are looking at her to see what she does next.
“I’m not like all of you, being on your phones all the time,” Burd told us. She admits to not being very internet-savvy and relies on her children to teach her how to navigate platforms like TikTok. Previously, she would get a maximum of 400 views per video. Now she averages thousands.
Burd said dealing with it all is “mind-boggling”. Though she has been overwhelmed by the positivity she has seen, the negativity is something she can’t get used to.
“You literally put one word down and you are either scrutinised or praised from every angle. I’m trying my best to show people what I’m about but the negativity does get me down,” Burd said.
“It’s really shocked me actually. When that video went viral and I saw the nasty comments, I was already heartbroken and then I had a couple of negative comments and I felt like I had been kicked in the face.”
She is also concerned about how her new-found popularity will affect her, and the allotment, going forward.
“It does worry me. When I put everything right on the allotment, there is a chance someone will come and do it again. I’m there to feed people and that’s what I intend to do but this has gotten so big now, I don’t know whether someone might try to do it again,” she said.
Burd said she hopes to use some of the donated money to install secure fencing to prevent this from happening again, as well as CCTV cameras to deter would-be saboteurs. But this won’t happen immediately, so she has to rely on the kindness of people – even as her faith has been shattered once already.
So what’s next for Burd now that she has all of this money?
“I’m so excited because I’ve got loads of plans for what I want to do. Fifty per cent of this land will be used to grow food as a community and the other 50 per cent will be let out to people who have been on the waiting list for an allotment for ages. We’ve got loads to do and loads of people to feed,” she explained.
She plans to set up a tea and coffee area so “people who walk past in the daytime can come in for a tea or coffee and a chat” as well as a children’s growing area so they can learn and participate in the community initiative.
She also wants different groups of people, particularly people from different cultural backgrounds, to “get together and have a meal for a quid or even for free” so people can all talk to each other, try different things and not be lonely.
She is worried about how she will achieve all of this, and has been seeking the advice of an accountant as well as trying to get a solicitor so she can set up a community interest company (CIC), which will allow for the money to be invested into her local community with transparency and efficiency.
“The money’s not mine, it belongs to everyone and I want to make sure that everyone can see what it’s being used for,” she said, adding that the whole process is “hard to get your head around”.
“Everyone is telling me different things and I don’t know what to do myself so it’s about finding that information out first, and then I’ll feel more settled.”
Burd said she feels “naive, in a way” and is wary of making sure that she won’t be “swayed” by people with varying motives.
She is however very grateful for the support of people who are trying to help her as well as the support of her family and friends. All she wants is for everyone in Harlow, which she said often “gets a bad rep”, to help each other.
“Let’s get back to working together, that’s what’s most important.”
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