An innovative horticulture and gardening project to support people with learning disabilities and/or autism was officially opened at Balloo Training and Resource Centre in Bangor (94 Newtownards Road, BT19 1XZ). It was launched as part of Learning Disability Week (18-24 June 2018).

The ‘Orchardville Grows’ project will provide people with a learning disability the opportunity to participate in a horticulture project, using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and social skills.

The initiative is being delivered by Orchardville, a local charity which supports people with learning disabilities and/or autism, in partnership with South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) and Groundwork NI.

The project has already been shortlisted as a finalist for The National Learning Disabilities & Autism Awards (Northern Ireland) 2018, which celebrate excellence in the support for people with learning disabilities.

Joan McGinn, chief executive of Orchardville, discusses:

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Groundwork NI to deliver ‘Orchardville Grows’, an exciting new gardening opportunity for our service users with a learning disability. Gardening offers a range of benefits including improved physical and mental health, social inclusion, the opportunity to gain qualifications and develop new skills as well as access to the natural environment.”

The SEHSCT site at Balloo had been derelict for several years. Work started to transform the site in December 2017 with the aim of providing a safe and secure place to develop the service user’s ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent.

Orchardville service users started planting flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs in March of this year.  The seasonal produce that is grown on site will be available for sale and the public are very welcome to visit during opening hours (Monday to Friday 9.30-3.00pm, and by prior arrangement on Saturday and Sunday).

Ms McGinn adds: “Orchardville Grows will be an asset to the community in the Bangor area and we are looking forward to further developing links with the local community, particularly in terms of volunteering opportunities at the Balloo garden site. This is very much a community garden and volunteers will be essential for the success of the initiative.

“We would be very keen to hear from anyone who might be interested in volunteering with us – perhaps you have an interest in gardening or have previously worked with people with learning disabilities or in a health and social care setting. Or maybe you are a student doing your Duke of Edinburgh, or a Millennium Volunteer looking for a new challenge? If so, we would love to hear from you.”

Speaking about her own experience, Martha Stewart from Bangor, one of Orchardville Grows’ service users, adds: “Coming to the garden really calms me down. I sometimes find it hard getting along with people and working with the plants really helps me. I have learnt lots of new skills too.”

Margaret O’Kane, Assistant Director of Adult Disability Services for South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, comments: “Orchardville Grows is not only an extension of the successful partnership the South Eastern Trust has with the Orchardville Society, but is also a further endorsement of the Trust’s commitment to providing a varied and exciting range of day opportunities for people with a learning disability.”

Paula Quigley Chief Executive of Groundwork NI, a charity delivering programmes and services aimed at boosting local regeneration, community cohesion and grassroots development, continues:

“We are delighted to have been able to work with Orchardville on their horticulture project, Orchardville Grows, at Balloo and support it through landfill funding. The initiative to deliver education and training through working in the great outdoors will not only benefit Orchardville service users but the wider community around the community allotment. It has been a pleasure working with Orchardville and their service users to develop this project and make it happen”.

Orchardville, which has offices in East Belfast, Bangor, Lisburn and Derry, provides accredited training and skills development for people with learning disabilities and/or autism. It enables the development of life skills that are transferable into employment and life in general.  These include occupational and vocational skills, wellbeing support, skills for life and work, OCN (Open College Network) accredited training, school transitions services and work placements.

To find out more about Orchardville or to enquire about becoming a volunteer please check out