Allotment build supporting young people is back in action after lockdown

Wooden Spoon Leicestershire`s charitable support to FOCUS Charity in helping develop their site at Rowlatts Hill Allotment Society has been integral to its success to date.

With the help of a £15,000 grant from Wooden Spoon, FOCUS undertook the hiring of the primary site on the allotment in 2018 in order to build a unique project that sought to use outdoor space and environment to meet and support young people aged 13-25 in the Leicester area to improve mental health, their well-being and life prospects.

Partners agencies like Marks and Spencers and British Gas provided volunteers to work alongside some of their young people to build up the initial aspects of the site and continued that support in 2019.

The site with its new structures and resources such as planting beds and cabin in place since May 2019, have allowed FOCUS to engage young participants in their youth project ‘Breathing Space’, to work and prepare the land in order to grow vegetables, herbs and plant flora etc.

The aim is that these physical and stimulating activities would help the participants feel challenged but within an informal and calming setting. “This process we have found centres young people; they are visibly and emotionally more relaxed with adult staff and where they feel trust and positive support emerge.” said Director of Programme Development at FOCUS, Gavan Wilmot.

The concept of the Breathing Space project came from a previous project the charity managed from 2016-2019 called ‘Roots and Shoots’. This was an inter-generational project that uses gardening, outdoors and arts to get young people and adults to work with senior citizens to help tackle loneliness and build bridges between generational and communities.

The learning and practical skills gained by FOCUS in delivering that project formed the basis for building this new venture. Gavan continued:

“We viewed that young people gained the same positive emotional and well-being outcomes that we assumed elders were gaining. Youth projects for our set age groups and demographic was our principal business so we set out to put young people at the core and this could address deep lying sensitive issues like mental health in a very grassroots approach.”

Breathing Space has built its remit slowly up in these past two years, working for one year with Keyham Lodge School that educates students with behavioural and learning difficulties. That project had some success for individuals who enjoyed the freedom from the classroom and the smaller group size.

The project delivered a blend of gardening activity, personal development/issue based work and creative and life skills sessions. There were others who attended that found the environment and core activities did not suit their educational and emotional needs.

In 2020, since lockdown eased, a number of the young people who access their sister projects like Inspire, Leicestival or Start have utilised the space and helped to manage the workload.

Every aspect of life has been impacted in 2020 with the emergence of coronavirus and the site has been impacted. The site in the lockdown period of spring suffered as FOCUS were not able to safely provide any face to face work with young people or visit the site due to movement restrictions.

Once those restrictions began to be lifted by summer, notably after the localised lockdown, the staff along with loyal volunteers and dedicated young people returned to help return the site to working order. The allotment was the first delivery space that allowed the teams to meet small groups of young people with adults in the outdoors which is more conducive to us maintaining covid -19 safety than indoor engagement.

Gavan Wilmot commented “We have a number of major plans we aimed to complete with support of some partners agencies prior to the covid crisis but we are aiming to complete by spring 2021.

Young people have reported how much they enjoy being on the site and working the land and doing various maintenance tasks. In the past month, a 16 year old male who suffered from bullying while attending school said that he” loved being here it made him feel good”. We have worked in small bubbles and this has helped adults spend more valuable time and effort working with young people to explore their needs and developments. The popularity of the site is growing especially amongst our younger members in the Inspire Project.

We have complied data during this year that have highlighted that mental health was a top ranking topic to our young people. They related that looking after themselves and that it is ok to seek assistance when we don’t have the answers is important to them moving forward in their lives.

Creating those conversations and making plans is how we can thrive even in times as uncertain as 2020, is what our work on the allotment is providing us. The best of the site is still to come and we at Focus are determined to broaden reach and impact of the Wooden Spoon Allotment in 2021 with agencies, funders and our communities.”

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