Staff from Exeter CVS, Bicton College and the Diocese of Exeter joined Growing People, Growing Places learners on their first practical horticulture session on March 5, to celebrate the beginning of their learning journey in personal development through horticulture. The Bishop of Exeter, who has kindly opened up over an acre of land in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral as a learning garden for the free ecotherapy course, joined learners in practical sessions on managing seedlings and raised beds.

Students and staff from Bicton College worked tirelessly throughout January to clear the area in readiness for the first group of adult learners. As shown in our image slideshow, beds and plants were carefully transplanted throughout January to make room for a polytunnel, and a rank of composting bays have been reinforced and roofed to serve as potting sheds. Old stumps have been removed, and low-hanging branches cut back to ensure learners can move safely around the area. A greenhouse was been cleared, and a garage area was been repainted and equipped with heating, furniture, refreshment and teaching facilities for indoor learning sessions.

ECVS Learning Centre Manager Fiona Carden explains “We are working in partnership with Bicton College to extend their learning provision to city residents, and combine it with our own specialist personal development training working with diverse groups around the city. Our aim is to develop an ‘urban academy’ for ecotherapy in adult learning.

“The ecotherapeutic approach is proven to reinforce the benefit of traditional classroom confidence-building sessions, by providing practical skills training in peaceful green spaces.

“We are so grateful to the Bishop of Exeter for opening this fantastic space to our learners, and to the local garden centres, builders merchants and community associations who have sponsored the free courses with donations of tools and safety equipment. We couldn’t have done it without them.

“To be able to offer this unique opportunity right in the city centre is a fantastic gift, and will greatly contribute to the wellbeing, recovery and rehabilitation of adult learners with multiple and complex needs.”

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, commented, “I am delighted to be working in partnership with Bicton College and Exeter CVS on this horticultural project in the Palace vegetable garden. It’s a privilege to be able to do so, and I am glad that the students are able to benefit from it.”

For more information see Exeter CVS.