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Nurturing growth through gardening

Mark is supported to live independently in a flat by the sea in Newquay. Once a week he spends a morning volunteering at the Orchard, an urban greenspace in the heart of the town. Set on a seven-acre piece of land from the Duchy Estate, it’s been an important part of the local community for the last seven years. During that time a variety of facilities have been built, including a forest school area, coworking space, teaching rooms and more.

The Orchard relies on an army of volunteers like Mark to keep it running. In exchange for two and a half hours of digging, mending and planting, they get lunch plus a bag of produce to take home with them. A lot of food is grown on-site in the Market Garden.

New skills and new friends 

Mark has Down's syndrome and a learning disability, and is also non-verbal. You wouldn’t know this, though, from the way he laughs and jokes with everyone at the Orchard. He’s become a valued member of the team and is thriving in his volunteer role. “Mark is part of a community,” says his support worker Caroline. “He gets to connect with people, and the volunteering tasks enable that by making him interact, be part of a team and complete shared jobs. It gives him a sense of independence within a safe and familiar environment.”

Mark’s favourite tasks are the high-impact ones that involve heavy lifting. He also helps at the Community Fridge at the end of the volunteer session, and is generally always making himself useful and doing things for others. “Mark is part of the furniture now,” says Steve, who recruits and coordinates all the lead volunteers at the Orchard. “It’s a lovely thing to see. We’ve watched him gain confidence, build friendships and learn new skills. Everyone knows him by name, and if there is laughter floating across the breeze you can be sure Mark is at the heart of it.”

Connection and community 

Mark isn't the only who's found a happy haven in the Orchard. The team there run five different programmes, including training schemes in horticulture, daily volunteer sessions, and activities for young people who aren't in education. It's an intentionally welcoming and inclusive space with a bustling, upbeat atmosphere. All volunteers are equal and everyone does the same tasks. 

"We have always been an open site," explains Steve. "You don't have to pay an entrance fee to come and sit on a bench or feel the grass beneath your feet. We had to close in the first lockdown, but as soon as meeting outside was allowed again, the space was alive with people having picnics and connecting with each other." 

For Mark, the positive impact of his weekly visits to the Orchard has been huge. “We feel that it’s vital for him to access different social settings, and we want to prioritise his wellbeing," says Caroline. "Coming here lets Mark be Mark, and there is a huge value in that."

Support someone to thrive

Being a support worker gives you the chance to make a real difference to the lives of people like Mark. To find out more about working with us and view all our current vacancies, head to the jobs section