Friday, February 12, 2010 - 11:13

Residents at a St. Austell centre for former offenders are helping the Eden Project grow plants for the biggest ever garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

People living at FreshStart are re-potting and looking after plants grown at Eden that will eventually be part of the Chelsea garden in May.

The garden, entitled Places of Change, is being developed by homeless people right across the country, and has already drawn interest from around 40 homeless agencies keen to contribute towards its creation. FreshStart St Austell is one of three Chapter 1 projects taking part.

FreshStart in St. Austell is a multi-agency project to reduce the impact of crime and substance misuse on the wider community by providing support to offenders when they are released from prison and is the closest group to Eden.

Dean Hartley has been a resident there for eight months and has helped pot the plants on the project’s grounds. He will be one of those looking after them until they go to Chelsea in May.

Dean said: “It’s great to be involved in this project. I’m a fan of the Chelsea Flower Show and would love to go there one day. I’ve done some gardening in the past and plants get under your skin after a while. When you’re nurturing them, you’re nurturing yourself at the same time.”

Hilary Bosher, Eden’s Growing for Life Growing Co-ordinator, said: “Eden is committed both to the advancement of horticulture and to helping the community. The Chelsea garden is ideal for us because it brings the two together. It's especially satisfying for us to have FreshStart on board as it means we're working with another innovative and exciting initiative based here in St Austell.”

Rachel Sanders, Chapter 1 operations director, said: “Chapter 1’s own ethos is ‘changing lives one by one’ which fits so well with the Places for Change Garden. At FreshStart it gives us the opportunity both to provide constructive activity for our residents, and also fulfil our commitment to maintain and develop the hostel garden.“

Last year, residents at FreshStart grew potatoes, carrots and salad leaves on their grounds and the group has plans to expand their gardening activities and build raised beds in the area behind their building. Dean has been active in getting these plans off the ground and is looking forward to helping make them a reality.

The Places of Change Garden is an ambitious collaboration between national housing and regeneration delivery agency, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the Eden Project, national membership charity for frontline homelessness agencies Homeless Link, and Communities and Local Government (CLG).

This partnership builds on the success of the silver medal award-winning Key Garden at Chelsea in 2009 which saw collaboration from 20 homeless agencies and 200 homeless service users involved at all stages of the Garden’s development. Participants involved consistently reported a huge confidence boost, new skills, and renewed hope for their future.

The 2010 Garden is being funded by CLG and the HCA’s Places of Change programme – a £80m capital funding programme that aims to bring about a step change in the way homeless services are perceived and challenge stereotypes around homelessness.

Paul Stone, the Eden Project’s award-winning garden designer, is the design lead, assisted by Roderick James Architects of Totnes. This year’s Garden is two and a half times the size of the Key Garden.

In developing a show garden of this size and scale, roles for approximately 300 services users have already been identified, with many more to follow. They will offer planting, gardening, design, construction, and carpentry during the site development, and on-site hospitality and multi-media facilities during the week of the Show. In doing so, they will develop new skills that will enable them to move onto further training and qualifications, and turn their lives around long-term.

FreshStart is managed by Chapter 1 (formerly CAHA) with the support funded by Supporting People. They work with the Police, Probation and Health services, the HCA and Cornwall Council.

Chapter 1 provides accommodation and related support services to help vulnerable people enjoy a more fulfilled life. It is a charity, based on Christian principles, which offers human compassion and practical support to meet people’s needs respecting their faith, culture and social background. Currently Chapter 1 works in partnership with 29 local authorities and has a growing network of 40 projects across England.