My practice

Developed five years ago to improve our day service’s
horticultural section and create meaningful work for people, Cherry
Orchard Garden Service (Cogs) is a not-for-profit social enterprise
run by adults with learning difficulties and staff from our day
service. It has produced outstanding results.

By aiming to provide a high-quality, reliable and good value
gardening service to local residents, Cogs seeks to promote a
valued role for individuals, improve employment prospects, provide
meaningful therapeutic activity and create a good environment to
work in.

The team started with 12 service users and two staff – who both
have a gardening background. At first, we trained service users to
become competent in using and maintaining tools, achieving the
certificate in skills for working life for horticulture. Users were
also trained in how to act within a work environment.

Assured of the service users’ competence and confidence, we
began to expand on their skills, making hanging baskets to sell and
maintaining gardens of local residents.

Cogs was becoming popular but its key contract was formed with
Burntwood – a local housing provider. Its “Live at home scheme”
assists older people to live in their own homes in the community.
Burntwood was looking for a reliable and – importantly –
trustworthy gardening firm to maintain their tenants’ properties.
We managed to forge good links with Burntwood and our tender was

After a successful bid to the European social fund, we were able
to employ an extra member of staff, and lease a mini-bus for the
sole use of Cogs. From this day the service users have not looked

They now have 75 contracts with the live-at-home scheme, many
private contracts and carry out occasional work for the local
council. The contracts include maintenance of gardens, planting,
and making hanging baskets.

Each week the service users receive a small payment for their
work, taking into account their benefits. As garden work is
seasonal, the money is saved which enables them to collect a weekly
payment throughout the year.

The service users are keen to celebrate their success and I as a
manager felt they did need some recognition. I applied to
Staffordshire University’s diversity awards scheme. Applications
were encouraged from projects that promote the inclusion of people
from ethnic minority communities, disabled people and disadvantaged
groups. Cogs won its category of community involvement and gained
funding too.

The service users are very proud of their award and it just goes
to show that individuals with learning difficulties can become
valued members of their local community.

Nichola Edge manages a day service in Staffordshire for
people with learning difficulties.

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