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South London gardening project aids independent living

By Jane Onyanga-Omara
BBC London

image captionIt is hoped the produce will be sold to cafes and restaurants

Young people in south London with learning disabilities or special educational needs are being given help to lead independent lives by setting up their own social enterprise.

It is hoped the produce grown by the 16 to 19-year-olds in the Crossways Garden in Peckham and in Battersea Park will be sold to cafes and restaurants.

The group, whose members come from schools in Southwark, has already begun talks with the juice bar at the Crossway Centre and the cafe on Peckham Common with a view to supplying ingredients.

As well as gaining the skills needed to become employees, the students will also gain a City and Guilds Level 1 qualification in horticulture after two years.

The programme is run by the Battersea Park-based charity Thrive, which helps people with disabilities and mental health problems through gardening.

'Wheels in motion'

A Thrive spokeswoman from Thrive said the charity was the national leader in social and therapeutic horticulture.

"A few community gardening projects are up and running, but when funding runs out the projects will often stop," she said.

"This project is a two-year one but we hope that afterwards the wheels will be put in motion for other people to keep it going."

image captionSupport worker Mark Emery said the project had made a "fantastic start"

Support worker Mark Emery said the project, which began in November, had got off to a "fantastic start".

"We have spent the first couple of weeks getting to know each other, which is an important part of trust and respect, learning about health and safety and finding out what everyone wants to achieve," he said.

"We can already see that some of these young people are keen to get started on the qualification and also to get digging."

The scheme is being funded by organisations including Southwark Council.

Susan Stuart, Thrive's deputy chief executive, said young people with learning difficulties and complex needs could experience disadvantage in the transition to adult life.

"They often live with a sense of failure and under-achievement which grows as they go through adolescence," she said.

"Alienation from their peers is evidenced through high truancy rates which further exacerbate poor academic achievement.

"Grow and Learn is a practical programme which gives young people who need that little bit of extra help and support the skills, confidence and knowledge to move on into adulthood and independence."

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