Environmental charity transforms lives and places

If you’re unemployed and struggling to get back into work, you may be feeling low on confidence. You may want to improve your skills and even gain new qualifications.

One of the organisations that helps in Luton is the environmental charity Groundwork East, which works with communities challenged by deprivation to transform places and lives.

A beneficiary of funding from the council’s airport company Luton Rising since 2013, it has helped turn around thousands of lives in that time.

James was recovering from alcohol issues and an accident that left him temporarily unable to work. He spent 18 months with Groundwork’s Green team, working with other volunteers to improve the Cowslip Meadow area of Luton.

“It helped me gain more confidence and build up a better routine,” he said. “Eventually I was able to get a job with the Groundwork team when an opportunity arose in 2019. It really changed my life.”

Sarah joined another Green Team community environmental project, also funded by Luton Rising, and she later secured paid work at a private garden.

Matt Sutcliffe, senior employment project tutor, is one of the skilled staff who runs Green Team courses and last autumn ran a project to improve the Five Spring entrance to Leagrave Park.

He said: “We were joined by 10 volunteers from the JobCentre and Probation services who were out of work and struggling to re-engage with the job market.

“The project involved a health and safety induction, and training in the use of tools, before clearing back an overgrown area, planting, picking litter and installing a new fence.

“What our volunteers get out of it in the end is more confidence, extra skills and the chance to achieve qualifications in employability, health and safety and horticulture.”

Another of the group’s projects in Luton supported by Luton Rising is the community food garden.

Here, a wide range of people including families, individuals with learning difficulties, adult support groups and drop-in volunteers plant and tend crops so that fresh food can be made available to other charities supporting people in need, including the Luton Foodbank, homeless charity NOAH, and the British Red Cross.

This year’s programme has sadly been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but project officer Rosie Cliffe has returned from furlough to plant this year’s crops such as runner beans, courgette and squash.

She said: “We are hoping that from September we will be undertaking a number of courses with family groups as well as our usual drop-in sessions. Last year and early this year we worked with the Luton All Women’s Centre who learned how to make preserves and how to cook healthy dishes as well as cooking with ‘left-overs’. We hope to invite them back again later this summer.”

Even though other recent projects have had to put on hold too, operations manager Chris Dungate said the future continues to look bright.

“We will continue to provide practical growing sessions at the food hubs in Farley Hill, Strathmore and Memorial Park, and in early 2021 at Marsh Farm Futures too. The funding will also allow us to deliver programmes like outdoor wild play which helps families learn together.

“We aim to provide more than 3,000 meals to the people of Luton, and involve 200 people in activities and growing at the food hubs – so not only is Luton Risings funding building confidence and skills, it’s also helping support the town-wide initiative to reduce food poverty.”