Ilford Recorder Imogen Braddick 4
Surrounded by streets with terraced homes and roads lined with parked cars, at first glance the Welcome Project Day Centre looks an unlikely urban setting to experience connection with nature.

But step into the centre’s garden and you quickly see there’s more than meets the eye.

The Welcome Project supports homeless people in Ilford, Essex, and the centre provides a mix of information, advice and practical support, including a health clinic, counselling and chiropody services.

Ilford recorder Imogen Braddick 2
It took just a few months to get the garden at the Welcome Project up and running. Photograph courtesy of Imogen Braddick, Ilford Recorder

New dimension

Since April, the centre’s garden has been adding a new dimension for the town’s homeless, a chance to connect with nature by growing vegetables from seed to plate.

From a standing start last spring, 10 areas of the garden were turned into veg and fruit plots, supplemented by planters and pots, under the watchful eye of Vic Norman.

Vic works at the nearby Redbridge Adult Education Institute, where he mainly teaches counselling, but has first-hand experience of how gardening can help people’s wellbeing, having been involved in a two-year project called Learning in Mind, which was all about improving mental health and included a garden-based course.

`I already knew the therapeutic benefits of gardening from that project which had an incredible impact on people’s positivity and mental health,’ said Vic.

It’s been great to get people involved in growing and see the fruits of their labours.

Vic Norman

Five Ways to Wellbeing

Looking back to the start of the growing season at the Welcome Project, Vic reflected, `It didn’t get the best start from the point of view of sowing, but I’ve been surprised about how much we’ve been able to do and grow.’

Mint, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, carrots, potatoes, strawberries, cucamelons, salad leaves, chillies and onions are among the produce that clients have grown and handed onto the centre’s kitchen, and there’s still plenty coming through into the autumn.

`It’s been great to get people involved in growing and see the fruits of their labours. It’s been good to see the enjoyment they get out of doing it,’ said Vic, who works on the project one afternoon a week.

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Vic Norman at work in the Welcome Project garden. Photo courtesy of Imogen Braddick, Ilford Recorder

Vic is a firm believer that gardening fits well with the NHS’s Five Ways to Wellbeing and that is vindicated by the positive feedback from clients, who talk about how time in the garden distracts them from negative thoughts and provides a welcome slice of normality in what can otherwise be an uncertain existence.

A keen gardener since childhood, Vic’s work with the Welcome Project has successfully combined his horticultural passion with professional counselling expertise and laid a foundation that is bringing hope to the homeless of Ilford.