What a Difference an Allotment Makes!

What a Difference an Allotment Makes!

The Community Roots programme, is an allotment scheme run in partnership between Southampton Voluntary Services (SVS) and Ideal Collection, a group of Hampshire restaurants, bars and pubs.

The scheme is aimed at helping those who have learning disabilities or have experienced homelessness, mental health issues, and alcohol or substance misuse by providing and supporting an allotment where people are able to develop skills, retrain and gain work experience.

Just as importantly, it offers an opportunity to meet new friends, work as a team, become part of a community, and develop a sense of self-worth - all through growing crops and maintaining the allotment with help from Duncan Reade, from SVS, and Liz Marsh, gardening mentor.

A range of crops includes potatoes, leeks, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, squash, such as pumpkins, spring onions, salad leaves, herbs, tomatoes, and more unusual produce such as celeriac. The arrival of a new polytunnel has been eagerly anticipated as it will widen the range of crops grown, including cucumbers, chillies and even melons, and extend the growing season.

Volunteers learn more about healthy eating, are able to suggest crops and take home produce. Some produce is used in Ideal Collection’s kitchens and some is made into relishes and jams by Charlotte Brown, another Hampshire Fare member.

In his allotment diary, Duncan mentions events such as bonfire night last November which was a chance to burn the collected debris while Liz prepared soup made from the last of the allotment’s leeks and potatoes, pumpkins were carved, and marshmallows toasted around the fire.

Developments included a new partnership put in place with Mooregreen Hospital which specialises in the rehabilitation of patients with brain conditions and disabilities, and new volunteers started from the YMCA, Booth Centre and Chapter 1.

In addition, Ideal Collection visited the Community Roots allotment, having allocated six members of staff from across the restaurants to be “Community Roots Champions” and act as a point of reference for Ideal Collection’s customers and staff about the project.

About 500 worms arrived for the wormery, which will create a liquid form of natural fertiliser. Otherwise work included planting, watering and maintaining the herb pots, planting cuttings from winter strawberries and fruit bushes, espaliering fruit trees, and general maintenance work such as weeding, clearing, preparing the soil for spring, composting and general tidying.

The old polytunnel was cleared in order to create a small sheltered workshop/social area in which a potting table has already been made from pallets and a hard-standing area is being prepared… Any unwanted paving slabs would be welcomed! Waitrose has kindly donated £100 of seeds and such contributions are gratefully received.

This is an excellent project with the allotment offering an oasis of restorative calm... That's the power of growing crops and community.