AN IDEA about providing a glimmer of hope for people emerging from the Covid pandemic centred on no other than the humble geranium plant.

NHS worker and community volunteer Steve Double's brainchild proved a beacon of positivity and the unusual project was widely well-received — with doorstep deliveries of the brightly coloured blooms putting smiles on faces across the Island.

Steve had become worried about people with disabilities, working at Care In The Garden near Wootton, who faced hardship as a result of the pandemic when the facility could only operate online sales.

He thought if the people were given a purpose, providing the cheery plants to another vulnerable group, both would benefit.

The resulting Operation Geranium had a huge impact.

He said: "I saw this as a social injustice, and I wanted to save their jobs, because I understood that giving them the right to work at Care In The Garden had made their lives important before Covid.

"One group of vulnerable, isolated, and disenfranchised people, could reach out and understand how the Island's elderly population were feeling marginalised, and alone.

"Sharing plants could bring people together, provide hope, and show the caring nature of a strong Island community."

Many elderly residents were home alone during the lockdowns, during what was to become a dark, disturbing, and worrying time, Steve said.

In the first year, in the geranium season between May and July, Steve started dropping off plants for deliveries to care homes in the Ryde/Wootton area.

Soon, Age UK IW became involved in expanding the operation to cover other towns and villages.

In the second year, 2021, Age UK IW recruited 40 volunteers to structure an Islandwide delivery system for 600 plants.

Steve said: "The reaction was recorded in the joy of smiling faces at the kindness of strangers arriving on doorsteps with plants.

"Those at Care in the Garden were vulnerable themselves but thought of the older people who were struggling too.

"It was really good to connect the two groups. It captured people's imagination and just took off, and gained momentum."

A song by the same name, Operation Geranium, was co-written by Steve and Age UK IW trustee Alan Thorne, and was recorded by Island musician Angelina Grimshaw on a mobile phone, during lockdown. It included the line The Op That They Could Not Stop.

As an extra project, Steve also published free postcards of artworks produced by local creatives — another project that tackles loneliness, and isolation, and helped re-connect people disadvantaged by travel restrictions.

Post Offices, shops, online businesses, libraries, and the NHS all helped Steve distribute an incredible 30,000 cards (so far), showing artists' interpretations of the geranium love spreading throughout the Isle.

Businesses popped them in their online deliveries as a nice surprise for customers, people sent them to elderly relatives on the mainland, and Post Offices dished them out to anyone who wanted them — all for free.

Steve said: "From the early beginnings, it has been something that people have wanted to get involved with, to share resolve and resilience, and raise spirits, to be a part of a strong Island community that is there for everyone, in a time of need.

"I will always be grateful to the sponsors of Operation Geranium — Caroline Peel who was Isle of Wight High Sheriff at the time, Ben Rouse at Rouse Wealth Management, Richard Quigley. Helping fund the printing costs of the postcards were Wight Aid, Newport and Carisbrooke Community Council, Ryde Town Council, and Friends of St Mary's.

"Without this help I am certain the doorstep deliveries of plants would not be counted in the hundreds and the art trial of postcards from the IW around the world would not become tens of thousands, and we may get to 50,000."

Both projects could easily be rolled out in other areas of the UK, Steve believes.

"Covid was unprecedented and this is something positive that's come out of it," he said.

"Every community around the UK has suffered in similar ways so it would be a good thing to see it spring up elsewhere.

"There's potential for growth there, as cost are covered by people willing to support it."

To get involved in helping the Island's older people, contact Age UK IW at