Our Stories – Earthworks St Albans

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Earthworks - St Albans

Earthworks is a small, local charity nurturing people with learning disabilities to reach their full potential. It offers Social and Therapeutic Horticulture and nature-based activities to those in need within the local community.

The project began when five large psychiatric hospitals for the care of adults living with long-term mental health conditions and learning disabilities closed. As individuals made the positive move into supported, community-based housing there was a need for both continued therapeutic activity and greater integration into the world outside the hospitals. Today, the charity run beautiful eco-gardens and encourages people of all abilities to develop skills, build confidence, boost health and wellbeing, and champion social inclusion in the community.

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The garden is managed using environmental principles with a clear focus on sustainability, organic horticulture and traditional countryside skills. The site includes habitat, production and sensory spaces as well as spaces for socialising and events. The whole site is managed to encourage wildlife but specific habitat areas include a wildflower meadow, a small woodland, wildlife pond habitats and an area set aside for beehives.

Food production is centred around a large poly tunnel to grow crops. A small heritage orchard sustains a number of apple varieties from which they press juice each autumn. The produce are available then for sale, both to visitors to the site and at a monthly Famers’ Market. As far as possible, Earthworks collects rainwater to minimise reliance on the mains water supply for irrigation. The garden hopes to create a space that leaves the local community and environment better than it was when they acquired it. It instils this positive approach to each of the individuals involved with tending to the space.

Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills. It also uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone's ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent.

Members of the public are welcome to visit the site, to enjoy the space and also buy freshly harvested produce. Holders of the neighbouring allotments also visit the site where they can obtain seedlings and share experiences and ideas. Earthworks has a very good relationship with several local schools both mainstream and those for pupils needing additional support. The pupils are taught about environmental issues and introduced to a range of horticultural activities under the supervision of a member of staff.

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By always maintaining a keen awareness of its environmental ethos, and providing appropriate habitats, the garden cares for the local wildlife and the environment. No chemical or artificial treatments are applied anywhere in the gardens so now there’s an abundance of all types of wildlife that lives in or visits the garden.

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