Recovering Through Nature

Phoenix Futures share the growth of their exciting Purple Camel Project.

Read the full article in May 2018 DDN Magazine

The guiding principles are oriented around growing as much of our own produce as possible

Phoenix Futures we have been working with people with substance misuse issues for over 47 years, offering specialist services across community, prison and residential settings. Our fundamental belief is that every person who is dependent on drugs and alcohol has the potential to rebuild their life.

It is only by focusing on an individual’s wider recovery, however, that lives can be rebuilt and individuals can stay on track. So in addition to our core recovery services we also offer a number of personal development programmes that help service users gain skills, confidence, motivation, employment and reintegrate into their communities. The longest running and most successful of these programmes is Recovery through Nature (RtN).

‘Purple Camels’ is a holistic approach to developing sustainable recovery. The guiding principles are oriented around growing as much of our own produce as possible in our gardens and allotments, to be used in our kitchens. We source local produce, if and where cheaper (including environmentally preferable purchasing), and have developed a culture of recycling and being aware of the way we use and save water and the energy for heating and lighting. We look at the use of renewable resources across the spectrum and are aware of pollution.

We called the project ‘Purple Camels’ because camels are able to adapt and survive in challenging environments, and purple is Phoenix Futures’ colour. The programme is part of the organisation’s Recovery through Nature programme – a highly effective therapeutic intervention that engages teams of service users recovering from substance addiction in practical conservation projects, and uses that experience to support their rehabilitation and recovery.

There are two fundamental guiding principles to ‘Purple Camels’. Firstly, the idea must be incorporated into the therapeutic community (TC) process as part of a ‘right living’ ethos, and be service user-led and orientated. It links into the proven, underpinned benefits of eco-therapy, horticultural therapy and our own Recovery through Nature programme and becomes integral to our TC process. Secondly, as an organisation, we are making a conscious effort to reduce our costs in such straitened times, so the intention is that it will save money in the long term and make our approach unique.

Working in partnership with Lane End Farm Trust (LEFT) at Phoenix Futures’ Sheffield residential service brings together our expertise to develop the desired sustainable concept. Our aim is to collaborate on a sustainable food cycle programme by developing the large, walled, Victorian garden at its Storth Oaks site into a kitchen garden of raised growing beds. The intention is to create a vegetable and fruit growing garden that can supply seasonal organic produce for the kitchen at the residential service, and any surplus produce can be sold into the local food community working with the Lane End Farm Trust (LEFT) existing customer network. In addition to the raised beds, we intend to have a poly tunnel on site to extend the growing season and provide better growing conditions to produce a wider variety of produce for more months of the year.

The victorian garden at Phoenix Storth Oaks site

Service users from both PF and LEFT will have access to working in the garden across all stages of the growing season, and trained staff with horticulture and thera­peu­tic horticulture experience will provide guidance and training for service users. As the project develops, we intend to provide basic qualifications for service users who wish to engage in that part of the programme. Other users may simply benefit from the chance to be involved in a real work environment and gain empower­ment through the therapeutic benefits of horticulture.

The benefit to the wider community, including local residents, volunteers and support workers, is access to high quality ethically produced food at fair prices that is grown and harvested by our service users. This ultimately improves community cohesion through inclusive outreach across the local area.  

Work began to transform the gardens with raised beds on 16 April. It was discovered that the quality of the soil was excellent and the decision was made to move the programme forward rapidly, so service users planted the first crop of potatoes on 24 April – potatoes being chosen as the first crop so the soil may be thoroughly worked over when they are harvested.

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