‘An in­cred­i­ble act of giv­ing’: a gard

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

CHRIS EVANS, THE BUTTERFLY GAR­DEN, CHEL­TENHAM From the out­side, Dundry Nurs­eries looks like any other out-of-town gar­den cen­tre, pro­mot­ing their win­ter pan­sies and Christ­mas bulbs, with an on-site pet shop and café. In­side, how­ever, go through the shop, past raised beds packed full of sea­sonal plants, through a gap in the hedge, and you’re in another world – the Butterfly Gar­den. This ed­u­ca­tional gar­den­ing and land skills char­ity, launched in 2002, is run for stu­dents of all ages and dis­able­ments. Work­ing out­side or un­der­cover in green­houses, gar­den­ing brings stu­dents out into the day­light. The first six were autis­tic, but now up to 30 stu­dents a day can turn up from any­where, ei­ther re­ferred by au­thor­i­ties or hav­ing heard about the pro­ject on the grapevine. There are peo­ple with Down’s syn­drome, cere­bral palsy, trauma, men­tal health prob­lems and refugees with dis­abil­i­ties. It is a safe place where there is no prej­u­dice, a real com­mu­nity. No one pays to come to the Butterfly Gar­den, and no one gets paid. Vol­un­teers come from far and wide. Some are cu­ri­ous neigh­bours, catch­ing a glimpse, and are then hooked. Oth­ers, like Liz Fal­lon, are ex-teach­ers or hor­ti­cul­tur­ists. Liz used to vol­un­teer through Thrive, help­ing one day a week, now she spends her whole work­ing week here. Another, Judy Mitchell, ex­plains the spe­cial ap­peal of the Butterfly Gar­den. “This place is fan­tas­tic. Time and ef­fort is spent find­ing out what’s right for stu­dents. Ini­tially, it’s gar­den­ing or re­cy­cling, but if that doesn’t suit, we find them some­thing else they en­joy. It’s a place where ev­ery­one gets the chance to shine.” Over­see­ing the whole, is an ex­traor­di­nary ring master, Chris Evans. End­lessly affable, he has loved gar­den­ing since he was nine, and never ques­tioned fol­low­ing his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther into the busi­ness. He has never been in­ter­ested in chas­ing prof­its. Fifty years on, he says: “I got the cake with this busi­ness, but it’s the Butterfly Gar­den that’s the ic­ing.” Un­fet­tered by the stran­gle­holds of bureau­cracy, while his staff carry on with the day-to-day run­ning of the nurs­ery, Chris spends his time lis­ten­ing and re­as­sur­ing, cre­at­ing a safe haven for his com­mu­nity, and in his spare time, fundrais­ing. A new pur­pose­built venue and class­room was opened re­cently by the Duchess of Glouces­ter. It of­fers mas­sage, belly danc­ing, cook­ing, knit­ting and drum­ming lessons in the warm and dry. Some of the stu­dents prop­a­gate shrubs that whole­sale to this and other busi­nesses. While Chris and I chat in the cosy café, run by trustee Sue Dove, stu­dents wan­der in and out, in­ter­ested in our con­ver­sa­tion, in­ter­rupt­ing and adding their opin­ions. Ev­ery­one is lis­tened to and re­spected. I meet Eid Hi­jazi, orig­i­nally from Dubai, who has learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, but calmly helped or­gan­ise the group and props for our pho­tos. He loves prop­a­gat­ing and prun­ing, de­scrib­ing him­self as “Alan Titch­marsh”. Matthew Bush, who is 24 and en­joys strim­ming and dig­ging, helped turn the derelict two-acre plot next door into a meadow, pond and wildlife area. Dressed in or­ange over­alls, he’s am­bi­tious to learn to use the chain­saw, and will be first in the queue for one of Chris’s fu­ture schemes – driv­ing lessons. Chris says many peo­ple with dis­able­ments, when of­fered en­cour­age­ment and train­ing, be­come very good in­deed at the things they are good at. This at­ti­tude has changed hun­dreds of peo­ple’s lives for the bet­ter, and he’s re­paid with the knowl­edge that they are ei­ther happy to stay with him or, with boosted con­fi­dence, have moved on to other things. I imag­ine that ev­ery­one who vis­its the Butterfly Gar­den – cus­tomers, staff, vol­un­teers, even pass­ing vis­i­tors like my­self, and of course stu­dents – leaves feel­ing bet­ter. This is how care in the com­mu­nity should work, but it needs en­ablers like Chris Evans to make it hap­pen, and Chris is a very rare bird in­deed.

THE JUDGES SAID

Richard Reynolds: “A strong ex­am­ple of ob­ses­sive pas­sion, en­cour­ag­ing en­dorse­ment from oth­ers.” Richard Vine: “An in­cred­i­ble act of giv­ing.” Tim Richard­son: “Par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive, A so­cial en­tre­pre­neur who sees a need and cre­ates from scratch.”

Help­ing hands: founder Chris Evans, cen­tre, is joined by David Miles, Troy Knight, Ger­ald To­plis, Alais­tar Jep­son

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