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"It's been a great way of bringing communities together"

Posted on 03 June 2016

Last week I packed up my rucksack and travelled to various Groundwork projects in Hertfordshire to see some of the projects being delivered on the ground.

During my trip I met lots of volunteers who were giving up their time to create better places in their neighbourhood. The first project I visited, Green Aiders,  a volunteer programme that helps elderly, disabled, or vulnerable adults to take control of their overgrown gardens via a one-off gardening service that can help prevent burglaries and vandalism that an unkempt garden can sometimes attract.

The team was made up of four members, all different genders, ages and reasons for being there. One volunteer, Hilary, told me that it was moving to an apartment without access to a garden that inspired her joining the Green Aiders team.

“When I retired I moved to an apartment that didn’t have its own garden so I was pleased when I found out about Groundwork volunteering opportunities,” Hilary said.

“As much as I like gardening, I didn’t want it to take up all of my time, so volunteering one day a week suits me perfectly. I’ve been volunteering for five years now and as well as helping people it’s helped me to stay fit and active.”

Another volunteer, Alex, was currently unemployed but said she volunteered her time with the team to do something worthwhile, while also getting valuable experience for her CV.

“I volunteer with the team twice a week and I really enjoy what we do,” said Alex. “It’s clear to me that people really benefit from our help. I’m currently unemployed so this is giving me new skills for my CV and references.  It’s a great way to meet new people and work with a great team.”

The second stop on my tour was a trip to CDA (Community Development Action) Herts St Albans Community Garden to meet one of our Green Teams.

Everywhere I looked something caught my eye. The crackling fire pit, the planters were full of flowers, the dug-out space ready and waiting to be turned into a pond… the garden sparkled of possibility. It was brilliant.

Green Team volunteers are on site at the garden a couple of times a week as part of their 14 week skills and development programme in practical horticulture and employability where they towards gaining a City & Guilds Level 1 award in employability and City & Guilds Level 1 practical horticulture.

Christine Marim, Trustee and CDA volunteer told me about all the different community groups that volunteered and used the garden.

“So many different types of people benefit so much from the garden – it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s been a great way of bringing communities together.

“We have many community groups who use the space including the Hertfordshire Asian Women’s Association, Mind in Mid Herts and the Adult Learning Group of St Albans and a childminders group.

“The magic of it is that you don’t have to be a specific group to volunteer at the garden. Anyone can come and use the space and there are so many people in the community of all ages and races who benefit.”

Christine was also keen to tell me about how the garden has created a space for community cohesion.

“The garden allows different groups of people who wouldn’t normally get to meet each other to get together and have a natter. In fact, a member of the group Heartbeat, for people who suffer from heart conditions, got talking to a member of the Asian Women’s Association who told him that many women from her group suffered from heart problems. They are now working together to help each other and raise awareness.

The last stop on my whistle-stop tour of the East of England was a trip to see the Sprouting Out programme which helps homeless people across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire by teaching them how grow their own fruit and vegetables and other life skills such as cooking and budgeting in order to boost their confidence and increase their chances of employment.

I met a volunteer called Christian who was whizzing around with a wheelbarrow quicker than Roadrunner on candy floss. He too was working towards a qualification – a City & Guilds Level One in Horticulture - and told me that volunteering with Groundwork was allowing him to once again work with gardens, something I could tell he was extremely passionate about.

“I’ve been around gardens my whole life. My first gardening job was for a local council where I stayed for twenty years before I was made redundant. I then moved from London to Luton which was when I started volunteering with Groundwork two years ago.

“Once I’ve achieved my City and Guilds qualification that I’m hoping to get full time employment in gardening, whether that’s landscaping or simply making a garden look great again. I love all aspects of gardening - there’s nothing better than being outside and seeing the results of hard work.”

Post by Stacey Aplin, Pr and Communications Officer

Groundwork UK