In the second of a series of articles by plot holders at the Redbridge Lane West allotments in Wanstead, Deborah Williams of Sprout There! explains the importance of the site for adults with learning disabilities
Sprout There! is a plot to plate horticultural project for adults with learning disabilities – part of Ilford-based charity Uniting Friends – situated at the Redbridge Lane West allotments. We share this historic site with other allotmenteers, tending our plots adjacent to the A12. It is a hidden gem, important not just for our vegetable growing but for the incredible biodiversity it supports.
We began 10 years ago as a lottery-funded initiative to engage people with learning disabilities in the entire process of fruit and vegetable cultivation, harvesting, eating more healthily and learning skills for personal development. We offer art and craft activities on site and create cosmetics incorporating some of the plants grown. We have also led workshops for children from local special schools. The service we run on this site is a key part of the charity’s business, which supports its running costs, including the employment of staff and trainees with learning disabilities.
The benefits of gardening and nature have been well researched for mental and physical well-being, and for our members, it is a vital ‘green gym’ for individuals who can have an array of complex support needs. For some, it is learning about gardening and provides employment opportunities; for others, it is being part of a supportive social group in a relaxing and beautiful environment.
During lockdown, coronavirus impacted us all, but for some people with learning disabilities, it was disproportionately devastating. They were six times more likely to die from covid-19 than the rest of the population. As an organisation, we were very aware of their vulnerability, and the project was able to provide a safe space to counter boredom and feelings of social isolation by reconnecting with each other and nature.
Now, we are under a different threat from the gas company Cadent, who want to use the allotment area while they make repairs on their adjoining site. As I write this, we are still unsure of the details, but many of the plots could be destroyed. The ramifications for all of us and the wildlife would be catastrophic.
The charity’s members, staff and volunteers are all anxious about the potential loss of the site. Mark thinks: “There won’t be anything left. No plants, no veg. We have a fox den and the birds and the nests would be gone.” Mike has been at Sprout There! from the start: “It’s been brilliant. I’m always learning and pick up ideas.” Tony, who is an experienced gardener, loves nature: “Animals have a right to live. You would kill their habitat.” He also thinks the plot is: “Great for… meeting people and chatting. It helps with anxiety.” And Daren speaks for many: “We’ve been coming here for years and we can’t turn our back on it. Everything we’ve done here would count for nothing.”