Allotment: how gardening has brought joy to a disadvantaged group

Posted on: 16 October 2010 by Michael Wale

Discovering how gardening has brought joy to a disadvantaged group. Known simply as The Project and masterminded by a retiree who works to his grandfather's maxim - that you should always put more back into life than you take out.

Plot OneThe Project is called just that because it was set up to bring gardening into the lives of adults with learning difficulties. Now, the Projects public persona is called Plot One, and one of the Chiswick Horticultural Society’s sites in West London is devoted entirely to this one cause.

Plot One is visited at least once a week by the adults, some of whom are in residential homes, and others in day care under the auspices of the London Borough of Hounslow. They are accompanied on all visits by their own devoted social workers, but it is one man, Geoff, who has driven the whole project forward, and taught his students the arts of gardening, and how it can reward them.

I came across Plot One on a Sunday morning when I wandered into the allotment site at the back of a block of council flats off the Chertsey Road in West London. Allotment sites, wherever they are, always fascinate me, or rather the people who garden them do.

So it was that I stopped by Plot One to admire its neatness, lay out and large brand new greenhouse. Even old logs had been put to use to create a wall along which pumpkins were being grown.

It was a site that put my own to shame, but that is always the way. You look at what other people are doing, and immediately feel inadequate.

Then I met Geoff who explained the whole project to me, and how gardening had improved the lives of a group of adults, some of whom had never tasted a strawberry.

”It took me ages to get this one person to taste a strawberry," explains Geoff. "But this is quite understandable when you think back to our own past and what we would not eat, even though we had never tasted it”.

The superb greenhouse was bought with funds from the Lottery. One of the Society’s members had taken a course with the Lottery to understand how you go about your application. It is a highly complicated process if you have never come across it before, and requires a skill that the Lottery are willing to teach.

Various other monies have been drawn in to help the project, but it is the human element, namely Geoff and Hounslow’s specialist social workers who are the real saints of the scheme.

”When we first got them here, they did not know anything about gardening," admits Geoff. "But by using the greenhouse we could teach them about planting seeds, and growing plants. Then outside we have raised beds where they grow vegetables, flowers and fruit. This has introduced another concept in which they can take the vegetables back to the kitchens of their day care or residential homes, and watch the cooks prepare it and then eat it. The whole process is very exciting, not only for them but for us as well. “

As their first year progressed, Geoff introduced a green jacket award in which one of the group wears the green jacket each week, and that means that they are in charge. They have to organise the others and help them with the programme.

Fortunately I was able to attend the most exciting moment of Plot One’s history so far. I was asked to present the cups at the Society’s annual show, held in the local community hall. Several of the adults who attend weekly had been brought to the show, and helped in a plant sale outside their greenhouse which helped raise funds. It also made them part of the afternoon.

Excitingly though Plot One was awarded one cup, but far more importantly the Banks medal, presented by the Royal Horticultural Society for their progress and achievement over the last year. Pictures were taken by the members of the proud recipients and as Geoff says, “They realised what they had achieved. They have worked through the worst of the weather.”

It has been hard work behind the scenes too, as Geoff recalls.

“One person who was brought to us had not said a word for a year. Imagine my joy when the other day he actually said my name."

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