Healing Landscapes – the power of the soil


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the healing power of landscapes. I’m currently reading Plot 29, the memoir/allotment journal of Allan Jenkins,  the editor of Observer Food Monthly. It is a truly gripping read; both devastating and beautiful, through which Jenkins narrates his childhood raised in children’s homes and foster care. Described by Monty Don as ‘a superbly written testament to the power of earth to nourish and heal…’ Jenkins childhood memories and reflections are processed, and as worked through as his allotment soil. Reading Plot 29, has once again stirred me to consider the power of the landscape, to nourish, and heal.

I find it particularly interesting that it is through a productive, edible landscape that Jenkins has found such solace. These thoughts have reminded me of another productive,  healing landscape that I researched as part of my Masters. An inspiring example of urban agriculture in Bristol transforming lives.

Svern Project logoI first visited The Severn Project’ in 2015. It’s an inspiring Social Enterprise and Community Interest Company providing training, education and employment to some of the most vulnerable groups in society, through horticulture – specifically growing salad leaves and vegetables. If you’ve eaten a salad in a Bristol restaurant, there’s a very high chance it was grown at the Severn Project.

When I visited the Project mid-morning in the Autumn, deliveries were being arranged and the freshly harvested salad leaves washed and sorted. I took the opportunity to ask founder Steve Glover about how and why he started the project…


After studying a degree and working in addictions counseling, Steve realised the opportunities that a growing project could offer in bridging the gap between treatment and reintegration for those recovering from substance misuse, poor mental health or offending backgrounds.

Since the project began in May 2010, the Severn Project has held two goals in equal measure: to provide its customers with the best salad leaves money can buy, whilst also helping those from substance misuse, poor mental health or offending backgrounds. By providing employment opportunities and teaching new skills, the Severn Project gives hope, dignity, and offers a fresh start and help to those involved.

Why is the project such a success?

The project gives the volunteers identity and empowerment through engagement, in growing, offering opportunities to learn new skills. As Steve said “People have eaten mineral rich food grown on waste land…you do not need to be dependant on substances, medication, treatment providers. We’re saying to other people you don’t need to be reliant on the infrastructure that’s already in place to get good food, you don’t have to be an expert in growing food. Forget the myths, you need loads of money, or the myth that you need to go into the supermarket – anybody can do this”.

The project harnesses waste and empty land to grow salad leaves bringing people together to sell up to 250 kilos of salad a week in the summer and supplying around 120 partners in Bristol and has built strong relationships with satellite growers such as Leyhill Prison. It is truly ‘growing with purpose’ empowering individuals and the local community – the landscape as a vehicle for healing, new opportunities and offering hope.

Severn Project.jpg

Low food miles…

Due to the short-lived, delicate nature of salad leaves, they are best suited to low levels of transport and storage. The proximity of the growing areas to the consumer allows for freshness and low food-miles creating a carbon-neutral system. What could be better?

Growing success…

What began as the passionate project of founder Steve Glover with just £2500 in capital, and has grown immensely to a thriving business with an underpinning philosophy of moving its volunteers from a dependent position on others, in all forms, to empowering self-sufficiency. MHI-Mixed-Lettuce

The Severn Project is a thoroughly inspiring example of the healing power of growing, whilst being a lucrative business offering opportunities to, and transforming lives. After spending half an hour with Steve Glover I left wanting to go and change the world. In a corner of Bristol, and in the lives of those involved, I think he really has. Such is the power of the landscape to bring healing and hope.

This article is based on my Interview with Steve Glover as part of my Masters research in 2015. It’s great to see the project has gone from strength to strength – long may it continue! Check out www.thesevernproject.org to read more about the brilliant work of the Severn Project or follow this link for a video about their work https://vimeo.com/106321549 .

I also thoroughly recommend Allan Jenkins memoir, an extract of which is available here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/12/allan-jenkins-plot-29-gardening-is-my-therapy-extract-fostering

Top image of Allan Jenkins taken from the Guardian.


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