The good life

25th February 2020

Based in Carlisle, Garden Life is a community garden and social enterprise providing rehabilitation sessions for young offenders as well as people with learning and other minor disabilities.

Opening its doors in June 2014, the qualified gardeners have converted a derelict allotment into a training and production site for vulnerable community groups, particularly disadvantaged young people, and can accommodate between ten to 50 people working on individual plots per day. The team also work with young people from the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) doing outdoor and horticultural skills.

The aim of the project is to help reduce youth offender behaviour and re-offending by creating a pathway into work through helping those engaged in the project to recover their self-worth and respect by connecting with their local communities. It also offers Open Awards and NVQ qualifications in horticulture, in association with Newton Rigg College.

£1,000 from the High Sheriff Crimebeat Fund enabled the charity to purchase much-needed additional gardening tools, equipment and building materials to continue offering hands on gardening work, which long-term provides a path to employment by building confidence, experience and qualifications.

Stuart Sutherland, General Manager, said: “We aid in the rehabilitation of young offenders who come our way and we give motivation and breathing space. This gives them options besides anti-social and criminal behaviours, to show them that honest hard work can lead to paid work and a way out of a chaotic lifestyle. There is the opportunity to get outdoors and work with our animals. The hens and ducks can provide a cathartic experience improving their behaviour at school.”

One pupil who was not engaged and disruptive in school was referred to the community garden in the hope that it would be an incentive for him to complete his class work. The initial two-month placement was extended to the foreseeable future as the outcome was such a success. The pupil who was expelled from his first secondary school for assaulting a teacher is now more settled and has a career focus.

The grant funding came at a good time for the team. Many of its volunteers often pay for tools and insurances out of their own pockets. The money was used to cover part of the annual rent, purchase seeds for planting, timber for compost bays and box beds and even a small shed.

Stuart said: “The shed was a fun project. None of the young people had ever built one, never mind dismantled one too. This became an activity as they had to measure the dimensions, locate a suitable part of the site, measure it, flatten it, reconstruct the shed, roof it with felt and secure it fully. It is now the onsite office.

“We give back too. We help in a few small ways by clearing fly tipping from the lane in front of our site, we take overfill from green bins from our neighbours, we take large cardboard boxes and wood too to reduce rubbish. During the summer months we give the neighbours and local foodbank soft fruit and potatoes too.”