Monday 10 August – Sunday 16 August is National Allotment Week and as part of their programme of support Surrey Choices enable disabled and autistic people to learn horticultural skills.
Vocational projects like this help the people we support to improve their confidence, gain independence and learn new skills to prepare for the world of work.
Surrey Choices has their own purpose built accessible horticultural space in Camberley which is used by the community.
The people they support access allotments in the community across Surrey, and in 2019 designed and created their own allotment to showcase and enter into the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival competition.
The allotment was then moved to their community space in Walton-on- Thames. All of these spaces are used and valued by the people Surrey Choices support and have helped them to learn important skills and helped with their health and wellbeing.
Camberley Growth Team
The Surrey Choices Growth team, which is for disabled and autistic adults to learn vocational skills on their pathway to employment, have a large polytunnel and half a dozen raised beds and a workshop for carrying out woodwork where they make horticulture products such as planters, bug hotels, bat and bird boxes and pallet herb gardens and much more. They restored a derelict horticulture base that was last used deceased ago for growing plants for the council workmen. They made the site thriving and alive again and a key part of the community. The space is open for other people in the community to access and to learn skills as well. The group works in collaboration with local groups and organisations to share skills and ideas.
In the Camberley Growth team there are eight disabled adults working with two of staff members. They grow whatever they would like! Currently they have quite a lot of fruit bushes, in the 50 foot polytunnel they have tomatoes, chillies, aubergines and cucumbers.
They have also decorated a hanging pallet herb garden with many different herbs and six large raised beds full of vegetables.
In spring time they harvest spring bulbs and sell or give away to brighten up Surrey Choices buildings and put a smile on peoples faces.
Sharon who is part of Surrey Choices Growth Team said:
I really feel happy and relaxed and calm. It reminds me of the job I had when I was younger before I had a disability. This can make me feel sad and emotional remembering the past but it is great to be back doing what I love to do and having quiet time to think
Accessing Allotments in the Community
In the East of Surrey, Surrey Choices have two allotments, one in Caterham and one at Bletchingley. Both allotments are regularly used and have provided a source of respite for both the disabled adults Surrey Choices supports and the staff.
The community space used to grow vegetables such as zucchini, onions, lettuces, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes. The in Bletchingley allotment overlooks the countryside with horses in a field next door!
The allotment spaces give the opportunity to people to get in touch with nature, to experience the process of growing and caring for something to see it yield, to test it. It is a holistic interaction which involves all of our senses. It enables people to enjoy the fresh air, exercise and to get satisfaction from maintaining and seeing things grow and enjoying the beauty there.
One of our day services based in Walton-on-Thames were awarded a four out of five flowers certification for their Community Allotment, at the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2019, by judge and top Chef, Raymond Blanc. A group of disabled adults supported by employees from the centre were able to bring their ideas to life after being successfully shortlisted to showcase their themed garden design ‘Fernleigh Recyclable Inspirational Garden Haven Project’ as part of the first ever RHS Community Allotment Competition.
Their allotment, which was created by recycling and upcycling materials, such as filling wellington boots and watering cans with a range of beautiful flowers and produce, had thousands of visitors throughout the week of the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. They were highly commended for their creativity, hard work and commitment by visitors, including by Frances Tophill, a horticulturalist and television presenter from ‘Love Your Garden’ with Alan Titchmarsh.
Jerry Ratcliff, Chief Operating Officer for Surrey Choices commented:
We are grateful to RHS for shortlisting Fernleigh’s entry and giving us the opportunity to showcase the talents and creativity of the people we support, who were involved in every step of this creation from designing to planting.
We could not have imagined how successful and inspiring the allotment would be to thousands of visitors. We even had one visitor who had relatives with a learning disability being in tears over how impressive they found it.
We hope that this will inspire other keen horticulturalists with disabilities to pursue their interests. As for the Fernleigh team, they have found a new home for their allotment back at their centre for everyone to enjoy. The many herbs, fruits and vegetables are being used in a range of sessions such as cooking, offering a sustainable source of home-grown produce.