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An innovative allotment project is giving young people who have experienced a life in care, care leavers and disabled children an opportunity to grow their own produce and understand where food comes from.

The plot at Ventnor’s St Boniface allotments is not only bringing children and young people closer to nature but providing an alternative setting for them to come together, learn new skills and promote good mental health.

The project is the brainchild of the Isle of Wight Council’s Leaving Care Team.

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Team manager, Karen Cheeseman, explains:

“This project is about the community supporting young people and children with disabilities to be involved in an allotment and learn skills in horticulture as well as socialising and networking with each other and the wider community.

“We wanted to offer an alternative setting for education on the Island so young people could come here with a tutor, do their English and maths work, and have breaks working on the allotment.

“We would like to say a big thank you to all those volunteers and businesses that have made this exciting project such a success.”

Many of those community groups and businesses attended the project’s official launch last month. Among the guests were members of the Ventnor Shed project who supported the building of raised beds and planters and volunteered their time to mentor and teach the young people in carpentry skills and building bug hotels.

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The beds are not too wide so they can be reached from all sides meaning the allotment is fully accessible to all, including young people who are wheelchair users.

Once established, it is also hoped the allotment will mature into a multi-sensory experience with herbs and plants with different textures and aromas.

Sarah-Jane Martin, who works in the council’s disabled children’s team, said:

“We want the project to make a real difference to young people and help those who struggle in the confines of the classroom to engage in learning in an environment that makes learning fun.

“We have been working with other professional partners, such as the Youth Trust and occupational therapy (OT) department, who are very keen to bring young people to the allotment for therapies.

“For example, a lot of young people who are on the autistic spectrum do not want to go into a sterile hospital building — they need to be outside in the environment.

“More and more GPs are giving ‘green’ prescriptions these days so young people can come here and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of being in this wonderful environment.”

As well as learning new skills from experienced hands, young people can work towards an Accredited Qualification Award in horticultural skills.

The project also neatly dovetails with the team’s similarly innovative ‘Come Dine with Us’ project — a monthly group for cared for children and care experienced young people to come together to prepare a meal with fresh produce and to enjoy the social aspect of cooking and eating together.

Sarah-Jane added:

“Now they will be able to grow their own fruit and vegetables here and understand where food comes from.

“There’s so much just in this little setting we haven’t tapped into yet and I’m just so excited for the future.”

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