Putting down new roots

Lind­say Swan meets a young man whose love of gar­den­ing helped turn his life around

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Next Mon­day is a big day for Ricky Downey Hol­lamby. Dressed in the smart green uni­form of a City of Lon­don Cor­po­ra­tion gar­dener, he will start his hor­ti­cul­tural ap­pren­tice­ship at West Ham Park. His is a story of per­se­ver­ance in the face of great odds. It is also the ful­fil­ment of a dream, for Ricky, 22, had al­ways wanted to be a gar­dener. Af­ter leav­ing school he joined Roots and Shoots (root­sand­shoots.org. uk), the Lon­don char­ity where young peo­ple from the in­ner city train in hor­ti­cul­ture, and was awarded a City & Guilds qual­i­fi­ca­tion. But his teenage years were dif­fi­cult and when things weren’t go­ing well with his fam­ily, he fell into bad com­pany. “I was hang­ing around with the wrong peo­ple,” says Ricky and as a re­sult he ended up in prison. On re­mand at Feltham Young Of­fend­ers In­sti­tu­tion he was at least able to keep up his in­ter­est in gar­den­ing, earn­ing £10 a week for his work plant­ing trees in the grounds, mulching and weed­ing. He took ev­ery chance to keep out of his cell, gain­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions in paint­ing and dec­o­rat­ing and car­pen­try. Lon­don was blan­keted in snow on the day Ricky left prison and he found him­self with­out money or a place to stay. “It was very fright­en­ing and so I went back to Roots and Shoots. I didn’t want to be a bur­den but didn’t know where else to go.” Linda Phillips, the di­rec­tor, helped him find some­where to stay. “She told me, ‘I’m not hav­ing you on the streets.’ Roots and Shoots is like my fam­ily. When I was in prison the staff wrote to me to tell me to keep my head down and my spir­its up.” Over the sum­mer, Ricky and four other young gar­den­ers worked in a range of Lon­don’s green spa­ces be­fore ap­ply­ing for the ap­pren­tice­ship, funded by the City Bridge Trust’s Grow­ing Lo­cal­i­ties pro­gramme. “Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent, I’ve been plant­ing se­dum to­day, it’s just like pink cauliflower,” he laughs. “Strim­ming, plant­ing, dead head­ing: I don’t have a favourite job, ev­ery job’s my favourite but I do en­joy the power tools. I’m the man for the job for weed­ing too. When I wake up ev­ery day, the thought of what I do here is what gets me mo­ti­vated.” Ricky was open about his past with Martin Rod­man, the City of Lon­don’s su­per­in­ten­dent of parks and gar­dens, and his hard work paid off. For the next two years, he’ll spend four days a week at West Ham Park, with the fifth day study­ing at Capel Manor Col­lege. “Ricky and his col­leagues have made great progress dur­ing their work place­ments,” says Martin. Life is very dif­fer­ent for Ricky now. “I’ve been through some bad times, my child­hood wasn’t great and it is some­thing spe­cial for me to be work­ing for an or­gan­i­sa­tion like this,” he says. He now lives in Stoke New­ing­ton, a cy­cle ride away from his new job. “It’s a real achieve­ment for me,” he says. It’s also tes­ti­mony to the power of gar­den­ing to change lives for the bet­ter. con­ser­va­tion­foun­da­tion.co.uk

At last: Ricky, 22, has ful­filled his dream of be­com­ing a gar­dener

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