New Wooden Spoon allotment project supporting young people’s mental health
FOCUS is a Leicester-based young people’s charity who strive to transform young people’s lives through inspiring and empowering projects and volunteering opportunities that improve local communities.
With the help of a £15,000 grant from Wooden Spoon Leicestershire, FOCUS charity undertook the hiring of the primary site on the allotment in 2018 in order to build a unique ‘Breathing Space’ 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. The allotment sees the young people work together alongside staff and volunteers to develop their confidence, resilience, self-esteem and coping strategies as they grow healthy food, engage with the local community and enjoy a slower pace of life away from the pressures of school, social media and the city.
The concept of the project came from a previous project the charity managed from 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.
Director of Programme Development at FOCUS, Gavan Wilmot, said: “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.”
Every aspect of life was impacted in 2020 with the emergence of coronavirus as was the site and the project. 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, staff along with loyal volunteers and dedicated young people returned to help bring the site back 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 was more conducive to maintaining covid -19 safety than indoor engagement.
Gavan continued: “Young people have reported how much they enjoy being on the site and working the land and doing various maintenance tasks. 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 allotment was opened in honour of Wooden Spoon Leicestershire longstanding committee member, Bleddyn Jones, who sadly passed away earlier in the year. Bleddyn was involved with Wooden Spoon for over 20 years and was the unmistakeable voice of Leicester Tigers match commentary on BBC Radio.
Wooden Spoon Leicestershire committee Chairman, Malcolm Foulkes-Arnold, said of the opening:
“It was an emotional and empowering day to be able to re-visit the Wooden Spoon allotment to officially open the project and see the fantastic work that has been carried out pre and post pandemic. The young people from Focus have worked extremely hard to bring this project to life and it was great that Wooden Spoon Leicestershire have been able to offer our support. The allotment has created an environment that will enable young people to manage their own mental health and provides an eye-catching site that draws in the local community. At the opening we saw first hand how this allotment has already made a difference to the young people lives and also brought together the local community with local allotment holders working together with the young people to pass knowledge, with the young people in turn helping the older allotment holders with manual help such as digging.”