Transforming a space, building community and leaving a legacy

Undercover permaculture in action - transforming a space, building community and leaving a legacy

by Behla Hutchinson, volunteer coordinator Hyde Park Source


Grow Together group on allotmentThis summer we embarked on a bold project, delivering a 6 - 9 week introduction to permaculture course to a group of people in sustained recovery.

We simultaneously wrote a manual so others could follow in our footsteps.

Stuart Gore from Forward Leeds instigated the move. He was wanting to offer people in sustained recovery a practical alternative to talking-therapies, such as Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous.

This seemed like a good opportunity to test out the growing research around the power of being outdoors. The power for being outdoors to promote your mental health, build resilience and sustain recovery.

Hyde Park Source had just been awarded a Reaching Communities, Big Lottery grant to fund a partnership project: Outdoors Active and Well, with TCV Hollybush and Leeds Mind. The timing couldn't have been better.

After a handful of meetings with members of Hyde Park Source, Forward Leeds and the Permaculture Association, we got a good picture of what our goal was. Joe Atkinson from the Permaculture Association and myself from Hyde Park Source met to begin designing the course. We planned how the sessions should flow and the pattern we were going to follow each week.

The space is steadily being transformed from an overgrown allotment to our (ever-changing) final design

Our first week started with introducing the word permaculture. Although people looked worried, once we got stuck into some activities, the group started to relax, share ideas, and learn. We started to survey the site, and bubble designed our dream allotment.

What was achieved and what exciting plans next?

Now, 11 weeks on, we've achieved a lot. The space is steadily being transformed from an overgrown allotment to our (ever-changing) final design. The group have built friendships and now share their weekly troubles and successes as they dig, drill and weed together.

We look at the parallels between transforming a chaotic site, and life, into a productive one. The principles of small steps, observing to find where energy leaks and unproductive cycles begin, and obtaining a yield – learning new skills, knowledge and building confidence and self-esteem.


"Simultaneously building confidence and new friendships, having fun, learning brand new skills and already taking real ownership of the project."


Claire Doble, Sustained Recovery & Detox Volunteer, Forward Leeds: "This new eco-therapy course gets our service users - who have all previously been affected by substance misuse issues but are now fully abstinent - out into the fresh air and back involved in their local community.

You can really see how much it means to the group, how they are simultaneously building confidence and new friendships, having fun, learning brand new skills and already taking real ownership of the project.

The combination of Forward Leeds' Sustained Recovery Team joining forces with Leeds environmental charity Hyde Park Source has created a really exciting and unique project. Quite simple strategies of using horticulture, permaculture and simply being outdoors working together as a team, can have a profound and positive effect on wellbeing."

Everyone is determined to carry this project on into the future. Every 6 weeks we hope to bring a new group to the site. We will encourage previous participants to begin peer leading these sessions and sharing our journey so far.

Permaculture doesn't have to be flashy and complicated, it is "advanced common sense," (in the words of Pete at Hyde Park Source). From an outside perspective it may seem like a regular allotment group but it's the time and thought spent on the design behind a project like this that makes it different.

A manual is being written in three layers

The manual, which hopefully captures a lot of these thoughts, is being written in layers. Similar to the layers or sectors you might analyse on a site. We have completed the practical layer. Next, we plan to write a theory/permaculture layer. Then, a recovery layer.

Bringing these 3 layers of expertise together will give people delivering the course a real understanding of the project's design. We hope other organisations will be able to use this resource with their groups; whether environmental, community or recovery focussed. It is a design project so it won't be a 'done and dusted' piece of work, more an ongoing collaboration.

Could you use it with a group? It would be great to have more feedback to ensure it stays relevant to the people using it.

Our methods of teaching aren’t formal or structured. We bring in principles spontaneously, when they are relevant. Perhaps ‘stealth’ should be added to a list of commonly used permaculture principles when bringing permaculture to the masses.

Forward Leeds are supporting adults and young people to make healthy choices about alcohol and drugs. Reducing risk-taking behaviours through dedicated prevention, early intervention and tailored programmes, with the ultimate goal of supporting people to achieve and sustain recovery. Helping individuals make positive progress with their lives.

Hyde Park Source are an environmental organisation and permaculture LAND centre. They work with people across Leeds. Transforming derelict and unused areas of the inner-city into productive gardens and spaces for community use, offering on-site training for volunteers in the process.