How to grow self-respect

On a plot near Bristol, social enterprise the Severn Project offers staff a new start in life through growing salad. 


Steve Glover, founder of the Severn Project in Bristol (seen in the middle of the picture above), supplies perfect and varied salad leaves to around 140 companies a week. Despite running a successful horticultural business, Steve had no experience in horticulture when he started out and the salad – though grown to perfection – was always a means to an end. Steve’s real interest is in rehabilitation. “I had problems with drink and drugs myself. I managed to pull out of it, and studied drug rehabilitation at university.”

He felt that meaningful work was the single thing that made the most difference to ex-drug users’ futures. “We are all defined by our roles: teacher; doctor; responsible parent. But junkie, alcoholic, family scapegoat; these are all roles that define people too. You live with that role and even defend it and build it around you. And when you have taken a 20-year holiday from responsibility, and don’t even understand how the world works any more, it is easier to stick with that role than to change.”

Steve’s plan was to provide jobs for people who could not find work through traditional channels: ex-drug users; ex-convicts; people with mental health difficulties; and anyone with a gap in their CV that would trouble most employers. He is paid no money for doing it, and has no charity status: he just believes that businesses should have a social role in society. The whole endeavour rests on the success of the leaves.

The staff agree that the Severn Project presents them with an alternative vision of themselves. One, an ex-heroin addict who asked to remain anonymous, says: “I am in the middle of a 12-step recovery process, and that’s really important, but it’s not my whole life. I can’t just sit in a council flat not taking drugs. This feels natural and important. It’s worth getting out of bed for.” Sammy, another member of staff, had difficulty finding work after a short spell in prison for possession of cannabis. “It felt unfair as I had done my time, but I was still being punished. People liked me and wanted to employ me, but couldn’t after CRB checks. But here I got a chance and I feel so lucky to do what I do. It feels very real, very traditional. You are working with the environment, harvesting plants while the bees are right next to you harvesting them too.”



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Words Lia Leendertz

Photographs Jason Ingram


This article was taken from a longer feature in the Gardens Illustrated Plant Issue 2016 (242). 


Other organisations using horticulture for social benefit include:

'Thrive uses gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.'

'Provides apprenticeships in landscape gardening to 18-25 year olds who are long-term unemployed, helping them to build the skills, experience and attributes they need to fulfil their dreams and move into and retain work.'





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