Opening up gardening to young people

“We give young people an opportunity to develop gardening skills, grow organic vegetables and carry out landscaping.” Ben Derrick, Gardener Trainer at St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots for Young People outlines how his project helps vulnerable young people to improve their physical and mental wellbeing through gardening.

St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots for Young People (PDRYP) helps vulnerable young people aged 16 to 24 years old, through social gardening and therapeutic horticulture. We give people an opportunity to develop gardening skills, grow organic vegetables and carry out landscaping. Through gardening we help people to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

We also run sustainability projects and small events to promote awareness of access to green spaces. We try to get out into the community and try to break down barriers for vulnerable people and try to get them re-engaged. Our aim is to give young people a sense of belonging and to work together to build sustainable communities.

We work in the Lewisham and Waltham Forest areas of London, but we also have two more members on our team who cover Bristol and Oxfordshire.

At the end of their time with us, people can receive an OCN Horticulture Level One qualification. Our ultimate goal is to get young people into employment that they choose, and to give them a choice and direction in life.

We have a positive impact on healthy eating. Most of my young people have never seen fruit and vegetables growing. They’ve never seen an egg that’s been laid by a chicken before. We have the ability to show this to them and actually to link them to their food rather than food being something that they just buy and heat in the microwave.

People engage with green spaces, which is something they probably haven’t done since they were kids running around playing football in the park. It is very easy to get on with your life and miss out on all these things or be isolated in your bedroom and not actually be able to socialise.

Gardening opens up people’s minds to something different. Growing up, people may see gardening as something you do when you’re old or something you do as a hobby, they don’t usually attach a career to it. We teach them the skills and show them that you can get a career out of it, whether it’s being a gardener or landscaper or tree surgeon.

The biggest challenge that anyone can face with a project like this, is that everybody is an individual. Nobody will turn up to us with the same expectations or the same needs, and everybody is on a different journey in life. We have to be adaptable to that especially when people are living such chaotic lives.

What I mean is that some young people may come to us from difficult situations. Some may have left foster care the age of 16 and moved into different hostels. They may have specific learning needs that mainstream education hasn’t been able to address. We kind of champion ourselves as being a project that can accommodate all of those issues. We work with their strengths and we don’t berate them for their weaknesses.

My very first client, for example, was an ex care leaver with a diagnosis of anxiety, depression and ADHD. He was in quite a bad way. He hadn’t come out of his bedroom in months and months. One of his support workers managed to talk him into visiting me on site. He came down, we chatted, before we knew it, he was turning up every day. I couldn’t keep this kid away. He struggled with the educational side of it because he couldn’t read or write at all. We supported him with that and got him to manage to start on his work books. He gained that much confidence that he was with me for about eight or nine months. He found a paid apprenticeship that was doing a similar thing and they could support him and put him through college as well.

Gardening isn’t just a career, it’s a way of life. The impact that working outside with nature has on you is profound. I’ve seen it before – people that I’ve taught that have been isolated that haven’t been out of their rooms with depression for months, that haven’t ever engaged in mainstream education, they suddenly find that, ‘you know what, I’m really really enjoying it’. It’s championing the fact that this is the world that we live in and you can make something of it and make it work.

It makes me happy, passing on the knowledge, seeing somebody coming through – I’ve been through similar in my past as well. I’ve had people in my past who have helped me out too. For me, if I can do the same and pass this on to some else, then I’ve won.

Putting Down Roots for Young People is part of Our Bright Future, a programme of 31 projects across the UK funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Each project has received around £1 million of funding to help young people step and create what is rightfully theirs: a healthy planet, a thriving economy and a better future.

If you are interested in joining or want to find out more about the the project, please get in touch with PDRYP via email: