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Places of Change wins silver for 500 homeless and disadvantaged gardeners at Chelsea

Homelessness agencies, their service users and prisoners around the country had cause to celebrate today when the Places of Change Show Garden won a silver medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. The Garden is the largest ever in the history of the event.

It’s part of an ambitious collaboration between national regeneration agency the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Eden Project, the national membership charity Homeless Link, and the London Employer Accord. It builds on the success of the silver medal award-winning Key Garden at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show, which required the manpower of over 200 homeless service users.  

At almost 600 square metres and almost three times the size of the Key, and containing around 12,000 plants, a journey through the Places of Change garden reveals exclusion, choices, opportunity, hope, achievement, enterprise and change - and its powerful and challenging themes have proved a winner with the Royal Horticultural Society judges.

The Garden has been created by around 500 volunteers from over 40 homeless agencies from all corners of the country, including Deptford Reach in London, the Salvation Army in Plymouth, St George’s Crypt in Leeds and Stonham Women’s Services in Hull.   People from eight prisons also joined in with the growing and planting.  Overseen by the Eden Project’s award-winning designer Paul Stone, participants have been involved at every stage; from design, planting, gardening, construction, and carpentry during the site development, to on-site hospitality and multi-media facilities during the week of the Show. In doing so, they have gained new skills, new confidence, and discovered new talents.

Rob, a volunteer and service user at Watford New Hope Trust, who helped grow the vegetables in the food zone of the garden said today: "It’s been a privilege to be here and part of such a major event. It’s been a pleasure to focus on growing, which has been a great release from the pressures of daily life, and, most of all, hugely therapeutic."

Richard Cunningham, Manager of the HCA's £80m Places of Change capital programme, which funded the project, said: "We are delighted with the success of the Places of Change Garden, which has helped provide new opportunity, skills, and hope for some society’s most disadvantaged people. But more importantly, this garden is just one part of a major step change we’re helping bring about in the way homeless services are delivered, through the Places of Change programme and the Government’s wider rough sleeping strategy, in demonstrating that homeless service delivery is about more than just providing a bed and a roof, it’s about helping people develop the necessary self-confidence and skills to make real change and move on with their lives. The Garden is a powerful metaphor for this.”

It is also hoped that by experiencing this garden, and seeing Places of Change in action, some of the stereotypes often associated with society’s most disadvantaged people can be broken down.

Howard Jones, the Eden Project’s Director of Human Networks, said: “Throughout the whole process of running this project and working with the extraordinary collection of people who have made this possible, it has been clear to me that any prize belongs to everyone - and to each one it would mean different things. Triumph, recognition, humility are all in there, but most of all, I suspect the feeling is of gratitude that we have been listened to, understood and supported. This is a big message and it is a big achievement - we are very grateful to have had the chance."

Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, said: “The Garden is a bold statement: just see the potential and creativity of homeless people when they are given a chance. The ideas, hard work and team spirit of the people taking part is breath-taking. It’s been a feat to bring everyone together. The love people show for their gardening and the natural world has made this a triumph.” 

 The overall theme of the garden is craft and enterprise, and the importance of teamwork, which is reflected in a number of specially designated zones such as crops and food; florestry and leisure; medicine and health – which features a “green man” made of hundreds of healing plants grown in the precise bodily regions to which they bring benefit, to symbolise nurture and well-being; industry and manufacture; and conservation and the environment. All of these act as a metaphor for new skills and the journey embarked on by the individual to get there.

 A trade stand adjacent to the garden is providing an opportunity to showcase some of the other skills being developed around the country as well as products from social enterprises employing homeless and formerly homeless people. This is a real demonstration of how services are really working to help people develop the skills necessary to bring about lasting changes in their lives.

The London Employer Accord are organising a series of employer events throughout Show Week whereby businesses from a range of sectors will be able to gain an understanding of the range of marketable skills that the homeless volunteers possess, with the ultimate aim over the coming months to provide them with opportunities such as apprenticeships, training, work placements and eventually sustained employment. Neville Cavendish, Director of the London Employer Accord, said:“We are going to use the London Employer Accord network to showcase everyone’s skills and, working with the London Development Agency, Jobcentre Plus, Business Action on Homelessness and a range of training providers, aim to move as many of the volunteers as possible into paid employment over the coming months.I have already met some of the volunteers who are working on the garden and they are very keen to talk to the employers and discuss their aims and goals for developing their skills and getting a job.” 

 The 2010 RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 25th-29th May.

 Notes to editors:

 Visit the website www.placesofchangegarden.org.uk  and there are photos available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/placesofchangegarden/

For more media information please contact Helen Stoddart in the HCA press office on 020 7881 1615 / helen.stoddart@hca.gsx.gov.uk, Gill Perkins at Homeless Link on 020 7840 4425 / gill.perkins@homelesslink.org.uk, David Rowe at Eden on 01726 811901 / drowe@EdenProject.com, or Malinee Wanduragala on 030 3441 1158 / malinee.wanduragala@communities,gsi.gov.uk.

 About the Partners:

Places of Change is an £80m capital improvement funding programme managed by the Homes and Communities Agency, which seeks to improve services for people who are homeless. It aims to identify, encourage, engage and release their potential to enable them to move on with their lives. It encourages service users to get involved in services that will help them turn their lives around.

The programme currently funds 95 projects in 62 areas nationwide with a wealth of innovation that includes social enterprise initiatives such as Crisis’s Skylight cafes in Newcastle and London; a butchery and farm shop at the Pilsdon community in Dorset, as well as a variety of training activities and embedded learning such as a recording studio at Endell Street in London; and a café/training kitchen and small theatre at Leicester YMCA.

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is the single, national housing and regeneration delivery agency for England.  Our role is to create opportunity for people to live in high quality, sustainable places. We provide funding for affordable housing, bring land back into productive use and improve quality of life by raising standards for the physical and social environment. For more information visit www.homesandcommunities.co.uk 

Homeless Link is the national membership organisation for frontline homelessness agencies in England.  Our mission is to be a catalyst that will help to bring an end to homelessness.  Our two goals are: To raise standards in the services that support homeless people and tackle homelessness and to influence the development of policy, strategy and investment at all levels of government. Homeless Link’s member organisations provide services through:  hostels, day centres, outreach and resettlement agencies, housing advice centres, youth projects, health projects, welfare rights groups, regional and sub-regional homelessness networks, refuges, drug and alcohol services and church groups.  www.homeless.org.uk

Communities and local Government (CLG) is the Government department with responsibility for tackling homelessness and ending rough sleeping, which is providing funding for Chelsea 2010. An important part of our work on tackling rough sleeping is to extend positive activities that motivate and empower people to take greater control of their lives and the Chelsea project is a fantastic example of just that. Its focus is helping those who have been on the streets to take part in something that builds their confidence and self-esteem, and will help them get their lives back on track. www.communities.gov.uk

Eden Project Limited is owned by the Eden Trust, which is a fully registered UK Charity (No. 1093070).
Eden is home to the two biggest greenhouses in the world – the Rainforest Biome and Mediterranean Biome.
Since fully opening in July 2001, more than 10 million people have visited Eden and it has generated £800 million for the local economy.
So far capital funding of £141.4 million to develop Eden has been raised from a combination of £55.5 million from the Millennium Commission Lottery Fund, £25 million from the South West Regional Development Agency, £26 million from European funds, £1 million from local and regional government (outside the RDA) and £33.9 million in the form of loans, lease finance and Eden's own revenue generation.
Immediate information may be obtained from our website:

London Employer Accord is an employer-facing Government initiative of the Mayor's London Skills and Employment Board (http://www.london.gov.uk/lseb). It receives funding from the London Development Agency and Department for Work and Pensions, and was set up as part of the Government's drive to help employers gain easy access to the employment and skills provision, whilst at the same time assisting unemployed London residents back into work. 

Visit http://www.londonemployeraccord.com

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