The New Growth Project – The Seed is Growing…

by Ciaran Burke

The days can be long. The days can be lonely, boring, and hopeless. It is a different world when you are unemployed, time moves slower, shops are more expensive, the cloud has no silver edge.

One afternoon in January I had an idea. This happens sometimes, especially when I garden. Digging a vegetable bed, pulling some weeds or chopping brambles, it gives you time to think. Often a simple solution springs from the earth as you tug at a dock root, sometimes the ideas are fantasy, but this idea was good, it was something new, something I had to do. It would involve doing something for nothing, something for someone, something with our garden. It was only the start of an idea, but it was growing fast. I did not know how it would be when fully formed, I had to let it grow before I could tell my wife.

That was a Sunday. The following Friday I was driving to Castlebar when I got a call. I had just parked at a garden centre and I answered the phone, my wife Hanna had an idea! During her lunch, she had been watching Sinead O’ Shea’s documentary about Ireland, the collapse of the Irish economy and its social effects, depressing stuff. But it planted an idea in her mind, the same idea that sprung from the earth and into my head the previous Sunday, The New Growth Project.

The idea had not yet got its name but basically we had the same starting point. Why not give a course in our garden, a couple of days a week, for a small group of people who are unemployed. Teach them about gardening, how to grow food, propagate plants and care for a garden, simple.

When I got home we talked about our shared idea: how we would do it? Two days each week, use the garden as a classroom. Would we get funding? Maybe, maybe not, but we would do it anyway. We gave it a name, I envisaged a logo, Hanna gave it form. We printed posters, we stuck them in shops, we e-mailed newspapers, one of them responded. We talked about it to our friends, we got encouragement. The applications came in, too many, we could only take four people. Telling unlucky applicants the bad news was hard. Then on a wet Tuesday morning at the start of March we welcomed our first four participants on The New Growth Project. Every Tuesday and Wednesday for the next twelve weeks they learnt how to sow seeds, prick out seedlings, plant plants, prune plants, move plants, about plants to eat, plants to weed, plants to admire. We studied flower structures, examined leaves and dissected seeds. We talked, we solved problems of the world, we had many laughs.

“I will miss the course next week”, he said on the last day. 9 months unemployed, the hardest part was not the lack of money but the lack of worth, the nothingness that fills the day, but now he had his garden to do. Although he would miss the course, he had been lifted by the experience, had made new friends, he could see breaks in the clouds. Sunny days will come, we are starting small but we are going to grow. Our hopes for the future; to develop further training programmes, to provide employment through social initiatives, to grow as individuals and help people to learn skills that enhance their chances of finding work.

Gardening is a cure, my grandfather often said, “the answer is in the earth”. From the cold dark earth in Spring, new shoots emerge seeking light from the sky, warmth from the sun, and can grow into beautiful things. Sharing our garden, having people come to learn, has brought a great reward for us. A positive energy, an inspiration, a purpose for our place. Our one acre plot down a country lane is now not just our garden, it is The New Growth Project.

Yesterday we started our third course of The New Growth Project with six new participants. We recently received a grant of €1,500 from Mayo County Council through the Local Agenda 21, which will help us to continue running the project. The next plan is to build a shed which we can use as a classroom, to raise the money for it and source cheap, free or recycled materials.

Noel, one of the participants on our first course of The New Growth Project told us about his experiences on the course one sunny day in March, watch the video

See what a typical week on The New Growth Project course involves

More information about The New Growth Project

The documentary “Collapse of the Celtic Tiger” by Sinead O’Shea can be viewed on the Al Jazeera English Webpage LINK

5 Comments to “The New Growth Project – The Seed is Growing…”

  1. With a simple, clear idea you are changing lives. Kudos to you!

  2. What a great idea! Hopefully the idea will spread over the land, like the wwoof movement.

  3. great idea …. teaching people from home wish i could join mayby soon … the folks are lucky to have you anh hannah hope the success continues …

  4. Well done! What a generous idea!

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