Place to Grow Horticulture Service is meaningful work at Westminster’s Caritas St Joseph’s centre

Caritas St Joseph’s is a place of personal growth for up to 180 individuals with learning disabilities, who come to try new and meaningful activities, join courses, and follow pathways into work. 

With your support, the new Place to Grow Horticulture Service means personal growth goes hand in-hand with the cultivation of the earth, and growing and nurturing plants.

‘Horticulture has always been important here at Caritas St Joseph’s,’ explains Gail Williams, the Centre Manager. ‘We have an allotment, a poly tunnel and an orchard. As part of our horticulture courses, our students are helping to grow fruit and vegetables that end up as food on their table. There are also some wonderful and unusual plants and flowers that are used for our floral enterprise course.’

Getting involved in horticulture can have so many benefits, as Gail explains: ‘Take food, for example. All too often, people with intellectual disabilities are simply given something on their plate. They don’t know where it comes from. They don’t see the process of growth. So, there’s great joy to be had in planting seeds that later become part of your meal. The apples and pears from the orchard go into our cooking. Our herbs, spinach and lettuces go into salads, and we produce organic vegetable bags to sell.’

Open to people of all faiths and none, Caritas St Joseph’s is rooted in Catholic teaching, but the theme of caring for creation and living sustainably has a wider appeal. It can also lead to meaningful work.

‘For a long time, we’ve had established social enterprises for ceramics, pottery and garden furniture. It’s been part of my plans for a while to set up a gardening service,’ says Gail. ‘Our students are already making wonderful garden furniture that we sell. My vision was to expand our reach using our planters, and bring our woodwork together with our new gardening service under the umbrella of our Place to Grow Horticulture Service.’

Your generous support for the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal helped provide seed funding for the new gardening service.

‘The money we received from the Cardinal’s Appeal helped us employ our small team to start with,’ explains Gail. ‘It paid for tools, equipment and workwear. It also helped meet the initial cost of petrol for the minibus used to go out to jobs.’

Set up in July 2021, the gardening service was an immediate success.

‘We put together a team of staff and volunteers that included people who were long term unemployed and had significant barriers to finding work.’

As soon as the gardening service was promoted in parish newsletters across the diocese, the bookings started to come in.

‘We had no idea how much it would take off,’ says Gail. ‘We originally planned for the team to be out working on-site one day a week, but we had to move quickly to expand and meet the demand. We’re already on three days a week. Better still, we’ve shown that we have a stable and sustainable financial model. To be able to cover our costs at this stage is a real achievement.’

Many people have been quick to show their support and use the team’s skills for their garden. The Gardening Service also has regular bookings from companies and parishes that need help to maintain their grounds.

To find out more about Caritas St Joseph’s social enterprises, or to contact them for more information about their Place to Grow Horticulture Service, visit: