Project Update: HMP Wayland

HMP Wayland is based near Thetford, in Norfolk, and is a low security category C prison. It has large PIPE (Psychologically Informed Planned Environments) and PD (personality disorder) units within the same building, which share the same large garden. We have been working with this prison for years now, with 2021 being the seventh delivery year!

During Phase One we introduced a permaculture-based plan, which included renovating some old buildings and an old aviary into a potting shed & green-house. We brought in donated and recycled materials, as this was not part of the original budget (the buildings were due to be pulled down). They have made a fabulous central feature of the gardens and have been incredibly useful.

In addition to nine large timber framed raised beds, we have also added three ‘Back-Yard Projects’, four wildlife ponds, many willow (fedge) boundary fences, rustic benches with arbours and a memorial garden. We have also planted a substantial heritage orchard and deliver two lots of six-week ‘Food & Nutrition & Budgeting’ courses to help the inmates learn how to prepare and cook the produce they grow. Learning how to budget on a low income is also a vital skill for true rehabilitation.

A poly-tunnel was donated and so there is now an additional tier to our delivery. Teaching how we can generate fresh food all year around, even during the “Hungry Gap”.

"Anyone for a carrot?"

"Anyone for a carrot?’

Re-greening our prisons from the inside out | Joannah Metcalfe

Greener Growth is delighted to report that recognition of the impact of spending time outside with our unique therapeutic packages seems to be growing as fast as our gardens this year! So far with the prison estates in the East Anglian & Kent regions and progressing with registered interest at HMP Thameside.

We are being asked to attend more and more meetings with both our normal points of contact – therapeutic units (PIPES and TCs) – but also with Prison Governors themselves. Those with a really progressive approach, such as Sonia Walsh at HMP Wayland near Thetford in Norfolk, and previously Will Styles and now Acting Governor Ruth Stevens at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshirehave been so impressed with the various impacts of the PIPE Gardens, they want us to help “Re-Green” the rest of the prison’s interiors. It has been a pleasure to discuss such real innovations.

We are now happy to report we have 2 projects growing at HMP Wayland with another 3 planned, 2 at HMP Whitemoor with another 3 in development, and 1 at HMP Swaleside with another about to start.

It is so obviously an effective, relatively low cost, high yielding way to change the “abandon hope all ye who enter” atmosphere of some of our prisons, it is not difficult to see why. Making use of the resources already present in our prison estates, i.e. the space, recycling or re-using materials and any resources already on each site, and helping people to help themselves by planting and growing food whilst creating conservation initiatives. Nature does the rest.

We believe that transforming the look and feel of the gardens whilst growing food, creates a more varied range of results than any other initiatives, as there is such a myriad of different benefits from working outside. There are so many reports coming out now regarding the therapeutic benefits of being outside, connecting with the natural rhythms of Nature, the seasons, that the earth itself improves mental health and general wellbeing. Mentally and emotionally grounding, literally, growing food and encouraging Nature back into urban, concrete environments, encourages us to observe that which is “outside of ourselves”, and within these new points of interest comes a calmer capacity to re-engage with the simpler pleasures of life. Growing fresh, seasonal produce, combined with all the benefits of learning how to cook nutritionally-rich meals, how to share again, all these are such valuable life skills. To see more people within the whole prison community getting outside and working, laughing and growing together is such a pleasure. These are exciting times.

It is not difficult to understand how this re-engagement or learning of new skills helps improve mental health issues, general fitness and wellbeing, helps increase employability and hope for the future. Everyone needs something to look forward to. It is vital for us as a society that people leave their sentence in a better state than when they went in – or more unnecessary suffering (and cost) ensues. So much criminality has its roots in mental health issues, if prisons are only about punishment and not about new beginnings, it is a huge failure and missed opportunity for all of us.

For our team, the constant news on what is wrong with the current prison system just emphasises how many opportunities there are to generate innovative new approaches to get things right. Our 8 years work with residents has such a profound impact, we are passionately dedicated to the need to cover more land with “Greener Growth”, and impact more people within our prison communities, both staff, residents and the wider environment alike.

We have finally managed to access some photographs of one of our smaller prison projects to help demonstrate the visual impact of our work. As you take in the transformation of our “Before and After” shots, imagine how it feels to start working outside in a garden like this when you have been inside for most of your adult life, like many of the men we work with in HMP Whitemoor. Feeling the sun on your face, the grass under your feet, to see birds and butterflies close up again. To pop a fresh pea in your mouth, a strawberry, to pull up carrots you sowed from seed. To watch pond skaters on the surface of the wildlife pond, see and hear a dragonfly humming past.

Currently news around prison is all about creating more prison spaces, about locking more people up. With a high re-offending rate, and so many prisons with low staffing levels and men and women in their cells, unable to attend courses and classes that they need to initiate positive changes, our vote would be focusing on a different path.

Our plea to anyone in a position of authority over our prison estates is help us to help residents help themselves. Transformation does not have to cost the earth, literally or metaphorically. Nature is in a constant state of regeneration and renewal. So our prisons could be too – and we believe engaging our low cost, high yielding systems across the wider community and all the land that it encompasses could hold that profound key. Let’s engage with some down to earth, common sense systems that reverse the trends, take back land and people into productive systems for the benefit of all and let’s do it now.

Anyone for a carrot?

Article: How Permaculture Impacts Lives In Prisons

Article: How Permaculture Impacts Lives In Prisons

The new winter issue of Permaculture International Magazine has Jo Metcalfe and Greener Growth in a three page feature article. Whoo-hoo!

But you'll have to subscribe to read it!

HMP Highpoint Gardens

HMP Highpoint Gardens Blooming

A little glimpse into our gardens at HMP Highpoint Prison at Stradishall, near Haverhill, Suffolk.  They looked so stunning when we were there last week! The chair was made by one of the guys  and Willow Geoff. Very comfortable. Great work!

Jo sitting in Geoff's willow chair

Columnist: My voyage . . . from prison to columnist says Mark Humphries

Columnist: My voyage . . . from prison to columnist says Mark Humphries

Bury Free Press

I am delighted to be asked to write this column for Greener Growth. As regular readers will know Greener Growth are involved in some amazing projects around the local area and further afield. We will use this column to let you all know what is happening at various times in these projects. But first I thought that I had better introduce myself so that you know who it is that puts this together.

I am Mark Humphries and in 1992 I was on a voyage in my career that would take me to some amazing places. This voyage was cut short due to my imprisonment; at this point I don’t want to go into too much detail. What I will tell you was that I committed at least one offence that put people’s lives in danger. I handed myself into the police and admitted the charges straight away. Some years later I found myself back in prison – even though no criminal offences had been committed – and it was here, in 2015, that I met Jo Metcalfe from Greener Growth.

The group were running a project in a local prison. Greener Growth do more than simply teach people to create awesome garden spaces; they show people a whole new way of living alongside your garden. As a former smallholder I wanted to get involved with this group’s project; it would make my time in prison seem a bit more like being at work again. I have to say I enjoyed my whole time I was working on the project.

The project planned and sketched out what the garden was going to look like. We had adopted a piece of land that wasn’t being used. Soon there was a real team effort developing and the one thing that I noticed was the sharing of skills. Many of the men showing each other the skills that they had prior to coming into prison. The roofers and joiners got on with reclaiming a rotting aviary and created a wonderful potting shed; engineering skills and carpenters got on with building and installing the raised beds. I was able to show my peers how to grow food, create compost and the importance of using this natural resource in the raised beds.

I have now retrained as a writer and I have developed new skills that I am putting to great use in a variety of ways: I am writing novels, poetry and articles. I have been commissioned to write a Creative Writing course for men and women in custody, and I am study for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. So when Greener Growth approached me to help write this column for them I jumped at the chance because it allows me to write, and at the same time to share the news from the projects that this group are helping to deliver.

Greener Growth is growing, says founder/director Jo Metcalfe. As a Community Interest Company focused on therapeutic horticulture, outdoor education and conservation, we helped develop 15 projects last year – which has now grown into 45! Working in East Anglia and Kent for almost 5 years, in schools, prisons and communities, it has been our pleasure to have been developing 7 new partnerships in and around Bury St Edmunds during 2018 so far. The BFP has covered stories around many of these, so we hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the greener growth in your area.

As our delivery in prisons accounts a more unusual element to our work, we thought it would reflect our ethos of creating new opportunities for all, by sharing the writing of our new column with one of our colleagues from our work at one of the local prisons. Mark is an ex-offender who we have known for over 3 years now, from “inside out”, and we are happy to help support his new beginning.

Prisoners contribute to school fair

Prisoners contribute to school fair

Bury Free Press

Greener Growth, community group organised a garden fair at Howard Primary School with plants grown by prisoners from Highpoint Prison.

The garden fair was organised to raise money to create a shaded area for the early years outdoor space at the school.

Jo Metcalfe, founder of Greener Growth, said: “I was really impressed with the children.”

The fair raised around £180 by selling plants that the prisoners from Highpoint had planted with the resources provided by Greener Growth.

Ms Metcalfe said: “Quite a few people in prison aren’t academic but they’re good with their hands, this kind of work allows them to get into a landscape profession when they leave.”


Greener Growth CIC – helping people create food producing gardens

Greener Growth CIC – Helping People Create Food-Producing Gardens

We were recently featured on the HMRC community interest companies blog!

How it all began

Watching People Grow as they Grow their own gardens

Having been a therapist for around 25 years I wanted to find a way of delivering the methods I had developed to a wider group of people, and start working within different communities. The issue was – how to find the best “route in”?

I had always grown my own food and found nature an inspiring and stress relieving aspect of my life. I wondered if I could introduce the therapeutic dynamics of my clinic work and at the same time:

The creation of a new garden

Around 6 years ago I started volunteering in a “Therapeutic Community - Therapeutic Unit” inside Blundeston Prison. With support from psychotherapists and a group of residents I began to create a new garden using permaculture principles.

We had no budget, so we used recycled, re-used or donated materials. This introduced sustainability and creativity into the equation - we had to find a way to create what we needed from what we had!

‘Growing and changing’ – the benefits of the therapeutic journey

Over an 18-month period (by the end of which I nearly defaulted on my mortgage payments), I observed the change in a disseminated group of guys (all ages and backgrounds) with different mental health issues and at different stages of their therapeutic journeys.

They began to grow & change in so many ways and saw that:

Prison officers and the clinical team saw:

Greener Growth - growing!

As the food began to be harvested (including fresh veg, salads, herbs & fruit) more changes were obvious. The project was a success.

Having initially set Greener Growth up as a Limited Company – as this was all I knew about - I begun to look into a more appropriate framework for the Social Enterprise I was so passionate to take forward. This work was needed everywhere!

Our growing team wanted to access more prisons, schools and communities where they were experiencing challenges such as:

I had my first small grant and some fabulous advice from the Lottery Funded organisation UnLtd and introduced to the concept of Community Interest Companies. I was then advised by several other organisations that it might be the perfect fit for myself and a growing band of people who were getting similarly inspired by the concept.

And so, we have grown, and what a completely fabulous experience it has been – and continues to be!

We have worked with 6 different prisons and more are contacting us all the time. We are also working with 20 different schools and special educational facilities throughout East Anglia, and we have 3 ongoing “Community Kitchen & Wildlife Garden” Projects.

Growing success and the plan for the future

There is nothing like watching people, whatever their circumstances grow their gardens and conserve their green spaces, whilst growing themselves and their own resources.

Greener Growth CIC:

The CIC has been a great success and I was recently awarded 2017 Business Leader of the Year at the Bury Free Press Business Awards.

The CIC formula fits us perfectly. At present, we have decided to continue our journey to become more sustainable independently of any grant funds, and we will reassess the potential next year.