Planting the seeds for a better future

14 December 2018 | North West England

Willow Garden Project - Philip Murphy, Liam Kelly, Derek Clapp, Ian Neve and Paul Downs

The Willow Garden Project runs workshops three times a week for people with various physical and mental health difficulties.

When people come to the project, they aren’t just planting seeds for cauliflowers and courgettes, they’re sowing seeds to improve community relations as well as learn vital life skills.

“Our members get so much out of seeing something grow from a seed, they love seeing the final product and it gives them a real sense of achievement and pride,” says Pamela Laird, the founder of the charity in Fleetwood, Lancashire.

Pamela, 54, set up the Willow Garden Project in 2012, after taking voluntary redundancy from her care assistant job for the NHS. “I’d tried to do something similar in that job, getting people outside and in the garden, so when I left my job, I decided to try and take it further,” she says. “I could see the real benefits to people when they’d been outside, feeling like they’ve made a difference.”

“We have adults from Action on Hearing Loss, adults with autism, brain injuries, everything you can think of,” says Pamela. “They plant everything from beetroot to carrots to chillies, and the look on their faces afterwards is just wonderful. Very often we’ll donate our veg to local schools, so they can grow them and use them once they’re grown. So we’re giving something back to the community too, and our members love being part of that. We give them opportunities to be part of the community, to feel worthwhile and like they’re making a difference. It’s wonderful to see.”

The Willow Garden Project has been chosen as a TSB Local Charity Partner by the bank’s Cleveleys branch. “They’re going to support us until September next year, which is amazing, their support is just invaluable,” explains Pamela. “We can use that money to buy new tools.”

At the project, members also take part in arts and crafts and upcycling. “We also went out and planted flowers to support Fleetwood in Bloom,” says Pamela. “It was lovely for our members to see their work around the town. Again, it gave them a real sense of achievement, pride and belonging.”

Nurseries and schools can also come along to the project. “It’s important for children to see how things grow, learn where their food comes from, and we all know the benefits of being in the fresh air,” says Pamela. “Our oldest member is probably in their seventies, and it helps them keep active too.

“The people who come here might not get a chance to be outside much, and they’re here come rain or shine! We fund everything ourselves, but are very lucky that we’re often given seeds. We watch them grow and the smiles on the faces grow too!”

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