A recent celebration at the Roots to Recovery community garden in Luton was an opportunity to highlight the healing power of the outdoors, says Vanessa Johnson.
Last month saw Luton service – and member of the Social Interest Group (SIG) – Penrose Roots to Recovery (Roots) host the town’s mayor Mahmood Hussain at a special celebration at the community garden. Roots has been awarded £413,004 over three years by the National Lottery Community Fund to engage with a minimum of 830 people in the local community who are experiencing mental and physical ill-health.
This will be achieved through its programme of outdoor-based workshops, training, and social groups and will enable the project to create exciting opportunities in Luton. One such opportunity is to increase growing spaces to enable Roots to produce even more fresh vegetables and fruits to support local people, families, food banks and community kitchens. The celebration included a lunch made from vegetables grown in the garden, along with speeches, a raffle and sales of vegetables, flowers and honey from the garden’s apiary. The day also served as an opportunity for potential volunteers to see first-hand the work involved in running the project.
‘We’ve all put a lot of effort into today so that the mayor, council members, partners, and other visitors can see what the project is about,’ said Roots service manager Samantha Smith. ‘We will use the lottery award to continue to provide much needed support to our members and wider community.’
The funding ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’, said SIG CEO Gill Arukpe (above right centre, with cheque). ‘Roots has long proven itself to be a vital service but even more so during the pandemic when Roots’ volunteers grew and distributed food to people, many of whom couldn’t get to shops or order online due to their vulnerabilities. My thanks go out wholeheartedly to the National Lottery and its supporters, for helping us to ensure Roots will continue in Luton for years to come.’
Roots believes in the power of gardening to transform people’s physical and mental health, offering a range of opportunities to learn new skills, help reduce social isolation, and promote positive mental and physical wellbeing. Members and volunteers shared what Roots means to them, with many describing it as vital to their survival. For William, an ex-volunteer now employee, Roots is a true lifeline. ‘We grow two things at Roots – we grow plants, and we grow people,’ he said. ‘Seeing how people develop and grow from when they first arrive, shy, quiet, and withdrawn to becoming more outgoing and engaged is amazing.’
This was echoed by Roots’ very first member, Louie, who said that Roots means everything to him as it has brought him out of his shell and helped him to make lifelong friends, while Charlie stated that without Roots she doesn’t think that she would still be here. She’d been through a tough time during the pandemic and was contacted regularly by staff, who checked in with her to ensure that she knew they were there for her. She thanked the Lottery for ensuring that Roots ‘will continue to be around for a long time to come, so that it can be there for others like it was there for me’.
‘Everyone who comes through the gate is welcomed here, regardless of race, class, or gender,’ said William. ‘This lottery money will give us stability for the next three years to continue to help the people who need us.’
Also present at the event were local councillors Amjid Ali and David Franks, vice chair of SIG’s board of trustees Stuart Jenkin, CEO of Luton council Robin Porter and CIG CEO Gill Arukpe, along with SIG directors and staff, Roots members and volunteers, and representatives of Keech Hospice, The Counselling Foundation, the Probation Service, NHS, social prescribers and other VIPs, relatives and supporters.