As BCHA’s Allotment Coordinator and a qualified trainer, Miles Mahoney can claim to have one of Dorset’s finest workplaces – a beautiful two-acre site with its own apple orchard, pond, growing beds and abundant wildlife, where since 2010 he has been dispensing both horticultural wisdom and encouragement in abundance to a wide range of learners on BCHA’s accredited Level 1 Horticulture course, as well as volunteers.
“My role as allotment coordinator is varied. Monday is allocated to fulfilling admin commitments that are carried out at head office. This also gives me valuable time to connect with the rest of BCHA’s Ignite employability skills team.
“Tuesday and Wednesday are dedicated to delivering our Level One Horticulture course at the New Leaf Allotment. We have a maximum number of ten students per course, who are with us for five weeks. The course itself provides a healthy and balanced mix of practical and theory based learning.
“There are many challenges to delivering courses at the allotment, the weather being the biggest factor. When the sun shines we are learning in the dappled light of the orchard, and when it rains we are in the polytunnels.
“If the weather is unsettled, we could be moving between both locations, which can lend comedic value to the session. On Thursday and Friday New Leaf Allotment is open for volunteering, of which we have a dedicated team. They have come to us via the horticulture course, or with the intention to enrol at a later date. Once they become a volunteer they could be involved in numerous tasks, not all of which are gardening. There are many repairs and maintenance tasks to keep people busy. Most of our structures are built from recycled timber or pallet wood and are always in need of work. My role as coordinator is to discover what people’s strengths are and find tasks that match, without overstretching, so as to build confidence in their ability.
“Every morning at the allotment there are several vitally important tasks to perform before students or volunteers arrive. Firstly, put our sign out by the main entrance for new arrivals. Then the kettle goes on, this requires lighting a small fire in the rocket stove to boil the water, which takes about 20 minutes, depending on the time of year.
“While the kettle is on I empty and clean the composting toilet, the sink may need a clean and the floor a sweep this also takes around 20 minutes. The kettle will have boiled in that time and the contents is poured into large flasks, some water is kept back for washing up. The fridge (bucket of cold water) kept in the shade under the counter, may require a clean and cold water refill. Milk acquired during morning commute is now kept cool. Once hospitality is in place preparation for either students or volunteers can begin.
“If I’m teaching I’ll put student folders, cushions, resources such as hand outs and reference books, flip chart and pens, and depending on whether we are doing a practical session, hand tools and a fire extinguisher into a wheel barrow and wheel it up to where I might be teaching. Next is a little walk through the orchard to unlock the back gate. I will then set up the classroom, either inside or out
“Spring is a busy and exciting time of year, with sowing seeds and preparing the beds to receive the seedlings when they are ready. The propagation polytunnel starts to fill up with seed trays and the sight of new shoots always manages to inspire our students and volunteers alike. Preparation is everything, as there are many factors to consider, not to mention the threat of a late frost.
“Some volunteers are more involved in the growing of fruit and veg and share the responsibility of planting and planning. This is a great help as most of my time is dedicated to either teaching or marking course work. We endeavour to promote a relaxed and safe working environment, which allows creativity and enjoyment to flourish.
“Lockdown did have an impact on the Allotment. Our volunteers were following government guidelines, so no weeding was taking place. However, wildlife was flourishing with an increase in the number of wild flowers growing on the allotment, which was a real bonus.
“The team of people I work with is made up of the most inspiring, kind, knowledgeable, humorous people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Mark Shaw, who runs the meditation and mindfulness workshops, Skills 4 Work and IT courses, is a calming influence within the team and has been a great inspiration in my career. Elaine Holyhead, our administrator, spins many plates and is the glue that holds us together. Erwin Edgehill is a development coach and is someone you can rely on for emotional support or words of wisdom. Personal development trainer Alice Evans is very experienced and always willing to help - she has truly enriched the professionalism of the team.
“Project manager Jamie Clarke has over ten years’ experience of the employability skills programme. Whenever I have a query or a problem Jamie will always find a solution, without fail. This provides a solid foundation to work from and imbues confidence within the team.
“Working within such a dynamic team is inspiring and working with our customers and being able to help them achieve their goals is immensely rewarding. Seeing customers enjoying and benefiting from this environment and inspiring students into the world of horticulture gives me such a boost.
“My role means that I am in constant contact with our customers. Through our course delivery I get to meet many people each year, all of whom have had interesting experiences and stories to tell. Some may want to continue their horticultural activity and become a volunteer. This has become a friendly community, and I am blessed to be a part of it.”
More information about BCHA’s Horticultural Level 1 course is available on the BCHA website.
Alternatively, contact Miles Mahoney for details about how to refer or self-refer: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 07966 800 130