Two ex-Army sergeants are helping unemployed people back into work by teaching them horticultural skills.
Between them Darren Riley and Mark Cox served 24 years in the Army but were both left scarred by the experience.
Darren, 40, suffered post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and after various tours Mark, 45, also struggled to cope with integrating back into civilian life and ended up homeless.
Both turned their lives around through the Armed Forces Community Covenant – a scheme which funds local projects that bring together the civilian and armed forces communities – and they are now working to help others out of their own personal slumps.
The Groundwork South Green Team, based at Fort Amherst in Chatham, gives people a LEAP Level 1 qualification.
Project supervisor Darren said: “I struggled with PTSD in 2002 and it is only recently I’ve been able to come to terms with it. Images from Bosnia will stay with me until I end up in a box. But what we’re doing here is rebuilding my confidence and self-esteem.
Video: Helping the unemployed back into work through gardening
“We don’t have ex-military personnel here at the moment, but everybody has their own troubled backgrounds and have ended up unemployed and needing this support. I feel privileged to be able to help.”
People are referred to the programme from the Job Centre and they work part-time to maintain the gardens and grow vegetables and herbs.
The popularity of the project is booming. So much so that just two months after it launched, the original slots for the 10 it was meant to accommodate has doubled – and there’s a waiting list.
Each course runs over four weeks. Of those to complete it five are already in employment and the rest are better prepared for a future in work.
Project manager Mark added: “They can’t wait to get into the classroom, they’re really happy and I think we make it fun for them. They love getting their hands on the strimmers and mowers, and being able to see their seeds growing. Getting them to move on with their lives, that’s the main thing.”
The project will continue until at least March next year.
Darren added: “We encourage people and motivate them, we helped somebody abstain from drinking. These people want to get on with their lives.
“We are all responsible for each other. We all look out for each other here and it is a bit like going back to the Army, except I get to go home to my fiancee and the end of the day.”