Jamie Dransfield has every reason to be proud of his allotment in Mirfield.
Last year he grew strawberries, blackberries, leeks, runner beans, beetroot, lettuce, roses and hothouse tomatoes. This year he wants to do the same – but he’d also like to sow the seeds of a small gardening club for others like himself.
Jamie, 43, has learning disabilities caused by a chromosome deficiency. It doesn’t stop him from pursuing his interest in gardening, but it does mean that he feels a certain sense of isolation, particularly since his mother died a couple of years ago and he lost his job at a DIY store.
But through a project called Do Your Thing, run by social enterprise Community Catalysts in Kirklees, he hopes to find like-minded people with whom he can share his allotmenting and gardening experience. He’d also like to learn more about cooking the things he grows and share recipe ideas.
“I’m a self-taught gardener,” says Jamie, “and I always wanted an allotment. I go there most days in the summer. I’ve got a greenhouse and a shed and I’d like to meet people to start a gardening group. I live minutes away from the allotment, but it is on a bus route from Huddersfield.” His plot, off Nab Lane, is rented for just £11 a year, making it a relatively low-cost hobby and one that gets him out into the fresh air. Digging his plot, he says, is also good exercise.
He’s being helped in the venture by Mark Finch from Community Catalysts, co-ordinator for Do Your Thing. He first met Jamie last year when the allotment, off Nab Lane, was in full bloom. Jamie was signposted to Mark by the Kirklees agency REAL (Realistic Employment for Adults with Learning Disabilities).
Mark explained: “The programme is designed to help people who might become isolated and helps them to establish their own activities or link people with suitable activities. REAL Employment put me in touch with Jamie and he thought it would be a good idea to invite people to his allotment to make friends and get a bit of a social life.
“There are a lot of people with learning disabilities out there on their own. People spend a lot of time just walking around town. They would like to have an activity that they can focus on.”
A few people have already expressed an interest in joining Jamie or helping the Learn and Grow gardening group and Mark is delighted at what has been achieved. One of the problems he foresaw – a lack of toilet facilities at the allotment site - was solved by approaching the landlord of the nearby pub, the Airedale Heifer. “He was more than happy for members of Jamie’s group to pop in and use the toilets,” says Mark, “and then it occurred to both Jamie and I that, as the pub does affordable pub grub, once the group gains more members they could have a pub lunch as a regular social activity.”
Jamie has also been invited to help tend the garden at the Keldregate Community Cafe on Colne Hurst in Deighton - a volunteer role that came about because Mark was working with another community group and heard about the cafe and its need for a gardener.
“It’s all about making connections and talking to one another,” says Mark, who has facilitated a number of Do Your Thing groups in Kirklees. They range from a creative writing group in Huddersfield, Meltham drama club, ‘Dirt Busters’ vehicle washing service and gaming group to a social evening for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and a walking group.
Once established, activities are run by the members, but Mark is still around to assist. Anyone interested in joining Jamie’s group or any of the other Do Your Thing activities can contact him by email, firstname.lastname@example.org Activities are open to anyone over the age of 18.
A key aspect of Do Your Thing is to identify and support people who do not use care services and are therefore less likely to be involved in regular social activities. As Mark says: “It helps people use what they are good at by setting up activity groups. It’s about ability not disability.”