Thomas referred himself to us. His last couple of years at school had been disrupted partly by his Mother’s illness and partly because of bullying both of which caused him to leave school without having gaining any qualifications. He had a stammer, was very shy and had little self-confidence. He and his sister are Indian and had been babies in an Indian orphanage when they were adopted at around 6 months old by a Canadian woman who was single, a professional and living in London. They all progressed well living in London and developing as a family.
But in 2002 the mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease which she was inclined not to accept for a long time after diagnosis. Her case is particularly poignant because professionally she was a psychologist. By the time that Thomas came to us in 2005 he could only work half time because he was the registered primary carer for his mother who was becoming more ill. Thomas had to be at home in the early part of the morning to see her off to a day centre and return home by 4pm to receive her back again. His progress as a Trainee was going to be slow due to the part-time hours so we decided to double his length of stay from the normal maximum of two years to four.
We enrolled him at Capel Manor College to do the Level Two NVQ in Amenity Horticulture but he could not cope with the classroom situation, despite much encouragement on our part. He was happy to work towards our internal NVQ’s and he now has NVQ Level 2 Retail Skills, Fork Lift Truck Operator and First Aid Appointed Person Certificates
In late 2007 Thomas’s Mother’s health had deteriorated to the stage when there was little choice but to have her cared for in a residential nursing care home where she is to this day. We increased his work to full time hours which enabled him to complete his Retail NVQ and helped him financially because he lost his Carer’s Allowance when she moved away.
Tony was referred to us by St James’s House. He has a history of severe depression, as does his father. There were no qualifications to show when he left school. He had periods either in or out of work. During periods of unemployment the DWP had sent him on numerous level one courses. After undertaking a substantive review of his qualifications and skills to date, we decided that there was little point in doing yet another level one qualification and enrolled him on the Modern Apprenticeship at Capel Manor. His social skills were poor initially but he is engaging with people more now and gaining confidence. Garden Services has also provided him with work experience which is useful for his skills development.
Derek is a man in his mid 50’s the first referral to us by Project Compass, a charity which helps ex-servicemen and women. Formerly Private/Guardsman with the Scots Guards, he had suffered depression and alcoholism for 15 years, spending some time as a rough sleeper. He joined us in April 2008. There was a single, early incidence of relapse about a month into the job which caused him to go AWOL. When contacted he was honest about the relapse and we agreed to take him back encouraging him to keep looking forward, which he did. He was settled by the time we went on a four day residential educational trip to see four world class gardens in Cornwall. In October he passed his Fork Lift Operator Certificate. In January 2009 a place became available to him in the Veterans Aid hostel where he now lives quite happily in the company of other ex-services men. He is currently attending Capel Manor College on a Modern Apprenticeship course working towards NVQ level two in Amenity Horticulture. In addition he is also working towards our internal NVQ (also level two) in Retail Skills. Derek is markedly happier and more content now.
James had been in Feltham Young Offenders, Brixton, Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons for different offences. He joined us in June 2004, made good progress then unexpectedly went AWOL in December. This resulted in a disciplinary warning when he did eventually return. In May 2005 he went AWOL again and we had to dismiss him. By this stage James had gained his Fork Lift Operator Certificate and the Garden Care Certificate of Competence.
In November we had a company social evening and James unexpectedly turned up. We asked him if he would like another chance and he leapt at the opportunity so we re-employed him. His attitudes and aspirations greatly improved following this second chance. He obtained his NVQ level one in Retail Operations in-house with us and City & Guilds NVQ level two in Amenity Horticulture, sponsored by us, from Southwark College. He had by now decided that he wanted to take up Arboriculture. We helped him to gain a bursary from the Horticultural College in Northamptonshire which paid for his board and accommodation. We applied to the Royal London Society (a charity that helps ex-offenders in the London region) who agreed to pay 80% of his tuition fees. CGC paid the remaining 20%. He started college in September 2006
James has gained the National Award in Arboriculture (a level three award), and two Operator Certificates: one for Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue and the second for Use and Maintenance of Chainsaws. He is now working with a tree surgeon in Scotland and has settled down with a wife and baby.
Tim joined us in November 2005 aged 20. He referred himself to CGC. He left school without qualifications. His parents were separated during his teens around which time he went to live with his grandparents. His achievements at CGC are Fork Lift Truck Operator Certificate; City & Guilds / NPTC Level 2 Certificate in Gardening; First Aid Appointed Person; Garden Care Certificate of Competence. He is currently working towards our in-house OCR NVQ Level Two Retail Skills. We have paid for driving lessons for him, as we do with all trainees after their 18th month of employment with us and he has gained his full driving licence – a great skill for life.
We extended his traineeship for a further twelve months to allow him to help establish our new Garden Services venture and he has further developed his landscape maintenance skills.
Tim, as with many of his predecessors, has grown into his role as a trainee in the sense that he had no interest in horticulture or any other vocation at first, but has developed a genuine enthusiasm for it over the time that he has been with us. In addition he has recently become pro-active: in guiding and supporting newer entrants and generally in terms of team working. This vindicates our belief that a two year contract is about right for most people in terms of seeing significant progress and development.
Jill was the first referral from a new organisation that we have linked up with: the Richmond Fellowship, which is a charity supporting people with mental health issues. Well qualified with a degree in English and French, she had a job in the City with a PR company. There she suffered bullying and sexual harassment which lead to a breakdown. She became agoraphobic and had severe anxiety which lead to seven years out of work. During her recovery she developed an interest in gardening (inspired by her mother’s passion for the subject). She got an allotment. Her support worker at Richmond Fellowship discussed the possibility of a career change to horticulture and referred Jill to us..
On her very first day of working for CGC she phoned from Kings Cross station asking for directions on foot. When she arrived she was in tears and very fretful saying that she could not “do it” (cope with working). She had endured her tube journey to work in an overcrowded train. A man had groped her. When she got to Kings Cross, the station was closed and she couldn’t continue her journey by tube. There was chaos at the station and no-one to advise her about bus alternatives to get to CGC. After an hour of counselling she agreed to stay. We agreed to change her way of working and instead of travelling through rush hour morning and night one day per week she could work two half days allowing her to travel out of rush hour and to ease herself gently back into work. Her progress has been excellent. She increased her hours to 3 days per week and now is full time. We are sponsoring her on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Level Two General Examination in Horticulture course in Regent’s Park. Of her own volition she has relinquished the support she had with Richmond Fellowship
Jon left school aged 16 without any qualifications. He had opted out of school to look after his mother who was dying of cancer. After his mother, a single parent, had died Jon came under the guardianship of his cousin and applied for a Saturday job with us. We recognised that Jon, although an unqualified, introverted young man, had enormous unlocked potential and rather than give him a Saturday job we took him on as a trainee. Since starting at Camden Garden Centre, Jon has gained in confidence tremendously. After a year of slowly building up his abilities, Jon completed NVQ Level 2 in Retail Operations, including using the till and displaying and organising stock. In his second year, Jon completed a course with Southwark College gaining NVQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture; gained his Fork Lift Truck Operator’s Certificate, First Aid Appointed Person Certificate, and DVLA Driving Licence, which was paid for by the Garden Centre.
Jon has now completed NVQ Level 2 in Customer Service, and is currently working towards NVQ level 3. Last year, at our annual awards ceremony, Jon was presented with our Trainee of the Year Award – shortly after he completed his two year Traineeship and he was promoted to Camden Garden Centre’s permanent staff. Jon is now part of the team dealing with our range of garden products. He is specifically involved with our computerised stock and till system, and is also part of our specialist Garden Furniture team.
Jon is a changed person, much more outgoing, confident, and able to deal with all sorts of customers and to use his initiative. He has become a very useful member of the staff of the centre and is beginning to supervise the new trainees. He has a bright future ahead of him and recently gained his NVQ Assessor qualification.
Simon, 39 years old, was referred to Camden Garden Centre from St. Mungo’s Trust for the Homeless. He had been given a Drug Testing and Treatment Order (DTTO) in addition to community service, as an alternative to a custodial sentence. He took up a traineeship at Camden Garden Centre when his full-time DTTO attendance was finished, although he still had to submit weekly blood samples for the DTTO. Simon made excellent progress at Camden Garden Centre, responding very positively to the opportunities offered to him, and gained NVQ Level 1 Retail Operations; Fork Lift Truck Driver’s Certificate; NVQ Level 2 Amenity Horticulture. His achievements at Camden Garden Centre were taken into consideration in court, and contributed to his sentence being ended earlier than his Probation Officer anticipated.
Simon is currently working towards his DVLA Driving Licence and is learning brick-laying. Since completing his traineeship Simon has been working as a self-employed gardener.
Anthony, 57 years old, lives in a hostel run by Irish Centre Housing (ICH), and was referred to us by ICH’s Job Powerhouse. He had always been in work since leaving Ireland when he was 18 – working for London Transport and British Rail on railway maintenance and in the canteens – but he was hospitalised for 8 years after being electrocuted at work. After he recovered he took up work again with British Rail as a kitchen porter but after 14 years had another serious accident which forced him to give up work, resulting in homelessness and therapy. Although he recovered physically he was in the “homeless can’t get a job – no job can’t get a home trap” and remained unemployed and homeless for over 10 years.
When Anthony was referred to us we could see that all this man needed was a chance to retrieve his dignity and gain some experience and retraining to help him back into work. Anthony preferred on-the-job training to formal study, and was particularly interested in landscape maintenance. He was a really hard-working man, loved and respected by all the staff. We discovered that his eyesight was poor, although he didn’t realise it, and we helped him obtain his first ever pair of NHS glasses. He worked particularly on the landscaping contract which we have for an estate next to the Garden Centre (specifically for the trainees as a training resource) learning about plant maintenance.
After a year we arranged two landscaping work placements for Anthony, one with a major landscape maintenance company. This latter was very successful; the company were so pleased with his work that they offered him a permanent, full-time position, which he took up at the end of the placement. Anthony is still with the company after four years looking after a small park in central London.
Roger was one of our very first trainees in the early eighties. His aunt had set up a community garden and Roger had always shown an interest in plants as a teenager. He has life-threatening Cystic Fibrosis and was a victim of the high unemployment statistics of the early eighties for the Afro-Caribbean community in London after leaving school with few qualifications. A self confessed ‘late-starter,’ Roger drifted for a few years with little opportunities arising for work, but continued to help his aunt as a volunteer.
Roger was referred to Camden Garden Centre, was taken on as a trainee and was an immediate success – really finding his vocation in life despite his illness. He took his Phase One City and Guilds Horticulture on day release and was soon helping other trainees. Phase Two quickly followed; his natural talents both with plants and as a supervisor were recognised, and he was taken on as a member of staff. A meteoric rise followed to Assistant Manager but following a forced move of the Centre’s premises and the economic recession of the early 1990’s, Roger left the Centre to set up his own landscaping company which was a great success. He then leased a piece of land in Kentish Town and created a new Garden Centre specialising in unusual plants, ran a bookkeeping bureau and opened a shop in Notting Hill selling African artefacts.
After nearly ten years Roger was made an offer he could not refuse and sold the businesses. He is now studying for a PhD in Taxonomy at the University of London.
Anne’s story After working for us as a till operative, Anne entered the Trainee Scheme, where she exceeded all expectations. Initially extremely shy, with a history of self-harm and psychiatric care, her achievements include NVQ Level 1 Retail Operations, NVQ Level 2 Customer Service, and Fork Lift Truck Operator’s Certificate. She completed a 4 day residential Personal Development course with Outward Bound in the Lake District – which included rock climbing, abseiling, overnight orienteering, high ropes and canoeing –, one month’s work experience with a water garden specialist, and a placement shadowing a housekeeper at the V&A, examining the ‘behind-the-scenes’ working of the museum. Her future options opened up immeasurably. She took up a permanent post with the water garden centre but was unfortunately made redundant a year or so later when the business collapsed. She applied to return to us and is now one of the permanent staff in our plantarea specialising in herbaceous perennials and aquatic plants. Her confidence has improved dramatically and is now a much regarded member of staff.
Diane was a bit of a rebel at school and although she had done quite well academically she drifted in and out of jobs, leaving home at an early age. Gifted artistically, she had always enjoyed helping in her parents’ garden, and worked in a local garden centre as an assistant. Unfortunately this job didn’t last long – she needed more support than a ‘normal’ employer could give.
Camden Garden Centre was the answer for Diane, and through training on and off the job, and support from management, she gained in confidence and maturity. She completed her City and Guilds Phase One Horticulture on day release. At the same time her plant knowledge was becoming extensive, and she was taken on as a permanent member of staff. Under guidance she began to become involved in supervising trainees and took on responsibility for buying plants from nurseries. She obtained a distinction in RHS General Horticulture, gained her Forklift Drivers Certification and First Aid Certificate, and after planning the move of the centre to its new location she was promoted to Assistant Manager.
It was clear that Diane had gained immeasurably in maturity and was ready for ‘the move away from the nest’ which the garden centre had become. The qualifications which she had gained enabled her to enrol as a mature student at Kingston University on a four year BSc in Landscape Architecture. The Garden Centre paid an allowance to her to help her get by financially and buy books and equipment. During the holidays she returned to work at the garden centre. Diane gained her degree and set up a landscaping business with another student she met at University. The business went from strength to strength and is now one of the main landscaping contractors for Camden Council. Recently Diane has started a new venture – a Garden Shop in North London.
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