At the heart of the island’s horticultural heritage, GROW provides a totally inclusive training space for islanders with learning disabilities and is also a favourite plant buying spot for many people here.
The organisation has identified that it needs to move with the times and redevelop to be able to extend its training offer and align with other linked sectors of Guernsey’s community. The charity is raising between £2.5 and £3m to enable this.
Guernsey’s Rural Occupational Workshop provides skills training and builds confidence for those with disabilities in a safe learning environment that is tuned to their needs. But it offers far more than a practical HQ because the positive energy around its projects and employment for those who would potentially otherwise not be able to work, plays an important role in self esteem and feeling valued.
On a practical level, GROW shows those attending everything from planting a seed, to re-potting the shoot, watering the produce and selling the final product. After successful planning meetings, the charity has been given permission to demolish some of the old glasshouses and erect newer ones, as well as an administration and training hub. It will also be able to make better use of the outdoor space for selling produce, expanding the range that can be offered and finding new skills that the attendees, known as crew can acquire.
One area in which the GROW staff know there is potential and demand is for carpentry. The team’s recycling of old pallets and creation of bird boxes, bug and bat homes has proved popular with customers and is fantastic on a sustainability level. They are hoping to add more items to the sales list.
Assistant manager Jess Aughton says that teaching life skills has a prime importance, as well as the practical elements of the work. ‘Many of the crew live in assisted living facilities and are told that they can’t do something or have someone do it for them, so we will have a new and improved cleaning facility where they can wash their own overalls and be taught more about personal hygiene, if that’s something that they need,’ she said.
The charity hopes that the redevelopment will help more of “the crew” to move on to employment elsewhere once they have developed the skills and self confidence, although she makes clear that they would always be welcomed back to the St Sampson’s HQ at any time. The plans incorporate a training café where individuals can learn the necessary kitchen and front of house skills for going out to work in hospitality.
The approved plans are a culmination of six years of planning. While the fundraising target is a substantial amount, it has been created at a level that provides only essential spaces and facilities.
Director Marguerite Talmage is keen to raise £1.5m. by October and said this would give the charity confidence to get spades in the ground on the project.
‘In total we think we have to raise around £2.5m, but everyone we’ve spoken to so far recognises the important role GROW has in the community and what it offers to those with learning difficulties.’
Guy and Julia Hands have become joint Patrons of a £2.5m redevelopment project which will see GROW’s current ageing vinery site transformed into a modern training facility for people living with learning disabilities. GROW’s Chairman Mark Dunster said: ‘We are delighted that Guy and Julia are endorsing our aims with their patronage. Their involvement demonstrates a level of confidence in what we’re doing which we hope will encourage others to join them in pledging their financial support.’
Mr Dunster said the redevelopment would mean double the number of learning disabled people attending GROW and benefiting from the wider range of training available.
Mrs Hands said, ‘What particularly appeals to us is that GROW offers opportunities not available elsewhere in the island. The trainees benefit not only from learning employable skills, but also communication and other life skills. This gives trainees the confidence to work as part of a team and to participate more fully in the community.’
Mrs Hands added, ‘We hope that other islanders will join us in helping GROW fulfil its potential.’