• Spadework is an independent registered charity that has been providing care, support and meaningful opportunities for adults with learning and other disabilities for 35 years. It boasts a garden centre, farm shop and café in the village of Offham, near West Malling.

    In this article, Business Development Manager Bridget Marrison provides insight into the important work carried out by the charity.

    Spadework: here to help

    We call the adults who we help, our trainees, and each day they are involved in many on-site activities from horticulture to woodwork and craft.

    In 2019, 116 trainees took part in horticultural activities on our site, with 32 enjoying the opportunity to apply the skills learnt at Spadework out in the community in our offsite garden maintenance service.

    Working in groups, the trainees learn how to sow seeds, grow plants, harvest and prepare produce, as well as several other gardening practices. Through these activities the trainees acquire horticultural skills, while learning about their environment and healthy food. At the same time, they reap the physical and mental benefits of being active outdoors.

    Spadework’s pumpkin project

    In 2018 we started our pumpkin project, to give our trainees a longer-term horticultural project. Initially, we developed a 136 sq. metre pumpkin growing area near our vegetable garden. Our trainees planted and grew from seed around 100 pumpkins.

    Struck by how engaged the trainees were with the project, we extended the area in 2019 to 750 sq. metres and planted 500 pumpkin plants. We found that the garden was an inspiration for our trainees. The visual appeal was immediately obvious, even for those with sensory impairment.

    Trainee M has nonverbal autism and typically relies on eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language to express himself. Every lunchtime this trainee would sit on a bench in the garden communicating to the pumpkins about his day, while ensuring they had been adequately fed and watered. His bond with the pumpkins developed to such an extent that we let him have his choice of the 2019 crop, which he promptly carved for Halloween. The pumpkin project has significantly improved trainee M’s ability to effectively communicate and express himself.

    Trainee Y has limited mobility, sensory impairment and can display signs of challenging behaviour. Once the pumpkins had grown enough to be visible, she regularly asked to visit the pumpkins and loved to measure them using different pieces of sports equipment to track their growth. Her enthusiasm for the pumpkins was unparalleled and we saw a significant change in her behaviour.

    In the week before Halloween last year our site was visited by more than 1,500 people, mostly families who came to pick their own pumpkins. The noticeable buzz this created on site had an energising effect for many of our trainees, who were able to proudly showcase many months of hard work, care and attention. Each day many of our trainees helped direct visitors to the pumpkin garden, assisting in choosing a suitable pumpkin (or two!) and explaining the difference between each of the 20 different varieties grown. The trainees were able to offer the complete sales experience, negotiating on price, handling money and wheeling the pumpkins in barrows to customers’ cars.

    2020 pumpkins

    The 2020 pumpkin project has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in March when lockdown was introduced our trainees had just started on the project and in their absence the pumpkins were planted and nurtured by many of the volunteers who generously donated their time to Spadework in this challenging period.

    We are fortunate that in September we had an incredible pumpkin harvest and are having a Pick Your Own Pumpkin event from 10-31 October.

    Because of social distancing measures and to ensure the safety of visitors, staff, volunteers and trainees, the event will be very different to previous years, but we will still be able to raise valuable funds for the charity.

    Spadework is very grateful for the support that Brachers extends to the charity as our success relies on charitable support, as well as income generated by events and in our farm shop and garden centre.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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