Homeless hostel residents put down roots with garden allotment project

Green-fingered residents at homeless hostel Alt Bank House are set for a bumper harvest this summer after transforming their garden into a mini allotment.

A team of keen amateur gardeners have spent the last few months building the allotment and planting vegetables, herbs and flowers in the back garden of the Fazakerley hostel, which is home to 42 single homeless men and women in modern self-contained flats.

The hostel, which is run by Onward, helps vulnerable people break the vicious cycle of homelessness by offering temporary accommodation.

With the help of £500 funding from Onward, a group of residents have slowly transformed the garden with a ‘grow your own’ project which now boasts seven raised beds containing garlic, broad beans, onions, turnips and two different varieties of potato.

Alt Bank House and the ‘grow your own’ project has been a lifeline for resident Kenny Sheridan (pictured right).

Alt Bank House resident Kenny Sheridan at the hostel's allotment

The 51-year-old found himself homeless after struggling to pay the household bills for the home he shared with his brother and sister. After losing his home Kenny was moved around from place to place before finally arriving at Alt Bank House on his own in December 2018.

Kenny said: “I was asked to help out in the garden and I just got addicted to it. It gives me a reason to get outside instead of just sitting in my flat all day long.

“I’ve always liked flowers. My dad used to have a nice garden and I would help him with hoeing and forking, and I used to get soil from the woods for him. Now I’m getting more and more into vegetables.”

As well as planting veg, Kenny has also single-handedly built a raised bed for the potatoes using salvaged bricks and recently embarked on a new project to build a patio for the other residents using donated flag stones.

“Hard work and getting out in the fresh air takes your mind off things,” adds Kenny. “I can get into hard work which helps keep my mind occupied.”

The produce grown will be shared among the residents to make their own home-cooked food in their flats, while some will be set aside for a weekly cookery class delivered by homeless charity Crisis at the hostel’s training kitchen.

Support worker Sue Doragh, who started the project, said: “It’s still early days at the moment but I’m hoping this summer we should have a good harvest.

“As the weather is getting better more and more residents have shown an interest and we now have five or six regular volunteers.”

As well as providing fresh produce and helping develop new skills, Sue says the allotment has given residents a real sense of purpose.

She adds: “It’s giving people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and I think it’s building their confidence, too.

“If you’ve not worked for a long time you can start to question your abilities. But people are coming out here and getting praise from other residents because they can see the hard work that they’re doing.”

Residents have also introduced a range of plants including sunflowers, sweet William, nasturtiums, foxgloves and marigolds to brighten up the garden and there are plans do develop it even further.

“There’s a greenhouse on the way,” says Sue. “At the moment the residents have got trays of seedlings in their flats which they’re keeping in their windows and watering for when the greenhouse arrives.

“The residents are also currently digging over a long patch of lawn to create more growing space and we’re improving our compost area so that we can produce our own compost which will help us reduce our outgoings.”