Allotment open day and all that jazz

News: Allotment open day and all that jazz
In the front row are Georgina Parker, Shell Newton and Lauren Harman, with service users, staff and the band behind them

An allotment project for service users staged an open day at the plot in Eltham on 29 August. There was a BBQ and some cool jazz from a quartet of friendly musicians.

And despite the inclement weather the enthusiasm for the allotment from all concerned was infectious. However, it's been a hard road to get this far. Shell Newton, an OT Technical Instructor with the Complex Needs Recovery Service takes up the story: "One hot summer, about three years ago, myself and Debbie Thistlewaite OT from the Assertive Outreach Team, set to work on what resembled a rubbish tip, on an allotment site in Eltham.

"At the time the site was unsafe for the service user foot. If only we had taken at the time a ‘then and now' photo to show the transformation. After about six months of digging and hard labour, we had a recognisable patch of land. Plot 83 was ready for service users to sow and plough.

"We started to take referrals initially from service users who were ‘under' Greenwich Recovery Service, Complex Needs Recovery Service and Assertive Outreach Service."

The allotment project is currently being facilitated by the Greenwich Recovery OT team, which includes Shell, Georgina Parker and Lauren Harman. The project runs twice a week in the summer and once a week in winter time.

Shell again: "We try to create links with other organisations, such as Growing Greenwich, The Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park and Capital Growth. In particular these organisations offer opportunities for our project members to "dig into", such as volunteer/vocational experiences, education, support and also we seek advice and take ideas for our allotment project.

"Growing Greenwich has provided work shop sessions on our plot for project members and staff.

"Our project is not all about growing organic foods. We feel it's important to maintain a good and natural habitat for our fellow creatures. Therefore we have a hedgehog house in a twig pile, a tub pond, an open compost heap and natural wild patch. This encourages the gardener's friends, such as hedgehogs, frogs and the protected species slow worms.

"We are looking for more lavender bushes, these are good for bees and we use the lavender to make lavender bags.

"Another venture is our proposed jam making project, called ‘we're jamming' with a logo, ‘helping people to help themselves'.

"Our project encourages service users to ‘move on'. One service user obtained his own allotment and another service user took on volunteer work at the ecology park after gaining experience from our project. The service users that attend our project enjoy taking home organically grown produce. Also our fellow allotment holders give us produce and seedlings and join us for a cuppa sometimes.

"The team firmly believe in the benefits of the therapeutic ‘power' of horticulture activities and community integration.

Georgina Parker, Occupational Therapist, Greenwich Recovery Team said: "Our service users have worked tirelessly over the past couple of years to transform a muddy, rubbish tip into a fully operational fruit and veg patch. We have also just won a grant of over £800 from Greenwich Pride in order to begin growing fruit and vegetables to make jam and sell it in the community."

OT Lauren Harman said she got a lot out of seeing people get stuck in and enjoy working on the plot: "It's a really great place to come to for staff and service users. We all get so much out of it."

Published on 31st August 2012