Seeds sown for a fresh start

A GROUP of troubled teens have channelled their energy into creating a new community garden where they tend fruit, vegetables and herbs.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 1st September 2011, 5:02 pm

The 20 green-fingered youngsters, some who have previously been involved in bullying, truancy, and antisocial behaviour, are working to create the garden – including a pond, greenhouse and decking area – entirely from scratch on a plot in Pathhead.

The initiative, developed by Midlothian Council’s education support outlet, Top Service, is designed to give youths who need special schooling a fresh focus.

The garden, which is being created in partnership with Lothian and Borders Police, has already increased the skills and confidence of the children taking part.

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Children aged 13 to 16 are contributing to the two-year initiative, dubbed Seed to Soup, which has so far seen the teens dig flower beds and plant crops including onions, aubergines, cabbages and strawberries. They have completed two-fifths of the work needed to be done to transform the area.

Caroline Caw, who is overseeing the project, said they had already seen a positive change in the children since they started six months ago.

She said: “We wanted to create a community gardening programme, so they could learn to grow their own vegetables and cook healthy, basic food. The main focus of the project is to provide young people with some skills for life – they very much see this garden as their own. They have built raised beds, planted vegetables and fruit, and we’d like to build a decking area and an extension to our [on-site] kitchen.”

She added that the children were being given the experience to gain an SQA qualification in Rural Skills, in partnership with nearby Newbattle Abbey College.

Rhian Simpson, 14, from Loanhead, explained that she had been in education at Top Service for a couple of months.

She said: “I’ve had a good time, doing the weeding and planting some carrots and cabbages. I prefer it here to my old school, I get on with the teachers better. At my old school I used to get in trouble. When the teachers shouted at me, I’d just shout back but here they’re easy going and I can get on better with them. I’ve just done some work experience in hairdressing and at a nursery.”

Inspector Mike Bennett explained that the garden had given the teenagers a better sense of ownership and belonging, and had led to some positive interaction with police. He said: “The kids are engaging with us pretty well as they come from some quite troubled backgrounds. Some of them aren’t in mainstream school because of behavioural issues, but the aim is to get them back on track. We want to bridge the gap between police and young people. Our interaction with them is often seen as negative, so it’s great to go in and let them see us as people rather than police officers.”