Date: 
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 11:02

Photos available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/placesofchangegarden/

Homelessness agencies and their service users have jumped at the chance of creating the biggest ever Show Garden ever at the Chelsea Flower Show, with plans for the site and the key planting phase now underway at designated growing centres nationwide. Already, around 320 people representing 41 organisations are on board to this exciting project – with more to follow.

The “Places of Change Garden” is being developed by participating agencies from all corners of the country including Deptford Reach in London, the Salvation Army in Plymouth, St George’s Crypt in Leeds and Stonham Women’s Services in Hull. They, and their service users, will be involved at every stage of the garden’s development; from planting, gardening, design, construction, and carpentry during the site development, to on-site hospitality and multi-media facilities during the week of the Show. Already roles for over 300 service users have been identified, with more to follow. 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.

This ambitious project is a major collaboration between several key partners: national housing and regeneration delivery body the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), national membership charity for homeless agencies Homeless Link, the Eden Project, and Communities and Local Government (CLG). Designed by Eden’s award-winning garden designer Paul Stone, the 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.

It follows on from the success of the 2009 Key Garden, which saw over 200 homeless service users create the Silver Medal award-winning show garden, many of whom have now gone on to further the skills they gained via further training or jobs placement. Participants involved consistently reported a huge confidence boost, new skills, and renewed hope for their future. Many are eager to take part again this year and improve their newfound skills.

Returning participant Nick, from St George’s Crypt in Leeds, said: ''Chelsea was the icing on the cake for me last year after doing my NVQ in horticulture. Looking back on it, it was a bit of a turning point for me. It was so good to be part of a team and be treated like a normal human being, which doesn’t always happen when you are homeless”.

Newcomer Dean Hartley, a resident at Chapter 1/FreshStart in St Austell for almost a year, who has helped pot the plants on the project’s grounds and will be looking after them until they go to Chelsea in May, 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.”

At 2.5 times the size of the Key and the largest Show Garden ever at Chelsea, the Places of Change garden takes this one step further, by offering even more opportunities for some of society’s most disadvantaged people. The overall theme of the garden is craft and enterprise, and the importance of teamwork, which will be reflected in a number of specially designated zones such as crops and food; florestry and leisure; medicine and health; industry and manufacture; and conservation and the environment; all of which act as a metaphor for new skills and the journey embarked on by the individual to get there.

Adjacent to the garden there will be trade stands showcasing some of the excellent work undertaken by homeless individuals and teams, which will serve to reinforce the information about the Places of Change programme, as well as that of the participating agencies.

HCA Chairman Robert Napier said: “We’re delighted with such an excellent response from the homeless sector. The far-reaching momentum behind this excellent project will make an even bigger impact on the lives of those involved in the Garden’s creation, and touch the lives of many more.

“People who find themselves homeless can make a positive contribution to their communities, and we want to show how this is possible, by giving individuals the right opportunity to find their place of change. We would urge as many people as possible to support the endeavours of all the agencies and service users involved, and in doing so, challenge the stereotypes around homelessness.”

Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, the national umbrella organisation for frontline homelessness charities that is coordinating the involvement of homeless people and projects in the Places of Change Garden, said, “We are delighted to be involved in this fantastic project again. We have just released research that shows a 33% increase since 2008 in the availability of specialist support services for vulnerable people, such as gardening, that help them to make positive changes in their lives. The Places of Change Garden is an example of such a project in action – it is about working in partnership to enable homeless people to show their talents.”

The 2010 Chelsea Flower Show takes place from 25-29 May, and you can track the progress of the Places of Change Garden in the run up to the event by visiting the one-stop shop blog site at http://www.placesofchangegarden.org.uk/.