Skip past Navigation
Close up of hand holding seeds

Centre for homeless grows new community bonds thanks to Bags of Help

A centre for homeless people in Derby had the bright idea of using the outdoor space to grow food, giving residents new skills and helping to break down barriers with neighbours in the surrounding streets.

The centre, in Arboretum – the most deprived ward in Derby – had previously been a disused hostel before being taken over by P.A.C.E. Supported Housing. They reopened it as an ‘engagement centre’ and also developed it into a venue for opportunities for learning and skills. The outside area was overgrown and the idea took shape to transform it into an allotment to benefit both the centre residents and the local community.

Residents of the engagement centre are aged from sixteen up to their 60s, and have a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have had very difficult life experiences and have complex needs while others simply lack independent living skills, especially the younger residents who are sometimes care leavers. All residents sign an agreement that they will commit to taking part in activities such as counselling, computer skills, art therapy or helping out on the new allotment.

A working group made up of a staff member who is a horticultural therapist and four centre residents came up with a plan for the site that included two polytunnels, a greenhouse, tool shed and eight raised beds. It was designed to be accessible for people of all abilities. A shout-out on Facebook for help was successful in getting the manual labour necessary to prepare the site and build the structures and beds ready for planting.

Courgettes, tomatoes, squashes, onions and cucumbers are among the vegetables now growing on the site, planted by the residents. This year is a test-run because the early growing season was missed – a full, ambitious plan for a big harvest has been developed for next year.

Spencer Braydon-Phillips, Managing Director of P.A.C.E. is clear that the allotment is already making a difference:

“In terms of mental health it's really improved wellbeing of some individuals. We have some clients with autism and it’s really worked wonders for them.

“One of the biggest problems for homeless people is the amount of time they have on their hands. What we’re trying to do with this project is give them opportunities to try new things. When they’re busy enjoying a new activity, we know that we’ll get better results.”

Fresh food for a fresh start

“99.9% of people didn’t want the place to open… but the allotment project has massively helped to challenge those perceptions, and create integration, and community cohesion.”

The crops will be used in the centre’s kitchen to prepare healthy meals.

“We want to try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and this has given us the ability to grow our own fruit and vegetables and turn that produce into meals.” says Spencer.

“It will help support the centre because we will make cost savings on food – but the much bigger value is in the wellbeing of the clients from taking part in gardening and healthy eating.”

The allotment is open from Thursday to Monday each week, with two days open to the public so the local community can be involved and benefit from the site.

The allotment is a crucial part of integrating the centre into the local community. With bad experiences of the hostel n the past, many people were nervous about the centre re-opening. Spencer gave a talk about the project to the local residents association which helped to get people involved. He explains: 

“99.9% of people didn’t want the place to open… but the allotment project has massively helped to challenge those perceptions, and create integration, and community cohesion.”

The aim is to benefit the wider community as well as the centre residents and clients. Next year Spencer hopes to be able to provide vegetable boxes to local streets.

Like so many other Tesco Bags of Help projects, the funding has been critical.

“I don’t think we’d have been able to achieve this without Tesco. It would have taken years!” says Spencer. 

Your community can also benefit from a Bags of Help grant. 

Apply for a grant