TThe smell of fried egg sandwiches wafting across an allotment in a Leeds park on a freezing December day was more than welcome to the assembled group, who breathed into gloved hands and stamped numb feet while joking and in reminisced.
They’d spent every Tuesday afternoon of the year working on that property, growing vegetables and building a shed for a composting toilet out of reclaimed materials — though they hadn’t gotten as far as building a door on it.
Calling themselves The Lost Plot, they are a club of recovering addicts finding meaning and fulfillment tending an allotment site run by community garden charity Hyde Park Source, which was originally formed to improve the local neighborhood, and is now at the forefront of the UK’s cost of living crisis.
Non-profit charities and projects such as Hyde Park Source will benefit from the Guardian and Observer Charity Call 2022-23 through our two charity partners, Locality and Citizens Advice. So far, readers have donated more than £1,206,000 to the appeal, which runs until midnight on January 15.
Steve has been a volunteer for six and a half years after being recommended by an addiction organization. “I suffered from depression and alcohol abuse. I felt very down, very negative,” he said.
He previously had a good job in sales at a soft drink company, but the shifts were long and antisocial – suddenly drinking had become a coping mechanism. In the end, Steve lost his job and his house, and then both of his parents died in quick succession. But it’s fair to say that Hyde Park Source and the people he met there saved his life.
Denise, a member of The Lost Plot club, at the weekly allocation meeting in Leeds. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
He added: “When we have problems, we talk about it in this group. [When in recovery] you need to do something They need support.”
Leona Graham, another volunteer, agreed. “For many people it is a stepping stone back into society. Some of the people who come are in the midst of recovery. It’s a wonderful organization. You wouldn’t believe what they are doing.”
Hyde Park Source runs many different groups in allotments and gardens – and even on a rooftop – in Leeds. The organization works with a mix of people, from those with severe mental health problems to children and young families living below the poverty line.
The urban area of Hyde Park has the highest child poverty rate in Leeds and is one of the poorest areas in the UK. It’s a jungle of concrete – or maybe red brick, as very few people have what could be called a garden between the tightly packed back-to-back terraces.
Hyde Park Source began in 1998 when a group of residents of these homes, fed up with the lack of green space, decided to convert their rubbish dumps into gardens. The idea caught on – neighbors wanted help with theirs and the community group began.
Now, more than 20 years later, the organization has eight paid staff and 120 regular volunteers, along with hundreds of adults and children who attend groups, take classes, or otherwise benefit from the charity each year.
One such worker is Alex Langstaff, who runs many of the groups at the Hyde Park Source. A few years earlier, she had worked in banking when she volunteered for the charity. When a job came up, she didn’t think twice. She said, “I’ve seen the huge impact the gardens have had on the volunteers and the long-term positive impact the organization is having on the community.”
Grants make up 60% of the charity’s revenue and the rest comes from commercial projects such as garden design and construction. The pandemic has hit those revenues hard, but they’re recovering, especially as the lockdown has prompted many people to appreciate green spaces more, the charity said.
But people are also more needy than before – volunteers come to do physical labor without food, so the egg rolls are more than a bonus.
The freezing Tuesday, which the Guardian visited, was Steve’s last day with The Lost Plot. Although not ready to return to paid work just yet, he now volunteers for a number of different projects in Leeds. But he’s grateful he found Hyde Park Source when he did.
“Life is not a cakewalk. You encounter hurdles that bring you down. Without that, I probably would have…whatever. I don’t think I would have got by without it,” he added.