Former CEO of St George’s Community Hub Dr Bob Tyler explains how an allotment in B19 is turning youngsters into focused individuals who’d rather cultivate courgettes than cause trouble
A stone’s throw from Villa Park there’s a plot of land that looks like any other allotment. You’d probably walk by without giving it a second glance, but to the people who put in the hard graft, it’s a game changer. Five years ago, former CEO of St George’s Community Hub, Dr Bob Tyler saw the potential in this unremarkable piece of land in engaging vulnerable young people. With an initial grant of £20k from Aston Villa, he took on two allotments. Now the project is the size of a football pitch with 16 plots cultivating an impressive amount of produce, but it’s the ‘human harvest’ that’s most remarkable. Initially, 30 young people aged 13 to 17 years from the B19 postcode were highlighted as being at risk and suggested for the project. A wider group was selected including 50 of their friends and peers so it felt like general youth work. Dr Bob, as he’s known, highlights the thoroughly depressing prospects for young people in the area: “One in three will be criminalised, loosely associated with gangs, achieve fewer than five GCSEs, will be pregnant before they reach the age of 18 and/or destined to be NEET (not in employment, education or training).The project has blasted those stats.”
As well as working and socialising on the allotment, a residential trip organised by Bob was a massive success. For some of the group who had living on fast food, it was the first time they’d sat at a table and used cutlery. All of the youngsters have gone on to achieve at least five GCSEs at grade A to C with many in further or higher education and a couple completing a Master’s degree. During the riots of 2010 and despite knowing many of their peers were involved, the project’s youngsters shunned looting for time at the allotment. “They weren’t interested in destruction, they had something better to do,” said Bob. The involvement of Aston Villa has also been crucial. As well as supplying Restaurant VMF with their organic produce, the youngsters are interviewed for part time roles at the club and a large proportion work on match days introducing them to employment. Bob has plans to roll out the project which is now self- funded and called The Roots and Renewal Foundation. Dependent on lottery funding, the plan is to get 30 similar projects across the UK up and running involving other premiership clubs.