“I’ve always loved plants and gardening, but I want to impact people’s lives as well.”
As the Founding Director of Organic Blooms, Jo Wright is certainly achieving that aim. From a four-acre farm near Bristol, the social enterprise sells seasonal British cut flowers that have been grown sustainably, without the use of chemicals. The business also gives people with disabilities and support needs the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence via training in horticulture, with the added prospect of gaining a City and Guilds qualification.
Having worked in hospitals and day centres as a practitioner in therapeutic horticulture, Jo set up Organic Blooms in 2006, after seeing that more significant and practical support could be offered in this area of mental health provision.
“Doing an hour of gardening is great, but doing three days can change somebody’s life,” she says. “Throughout my career, I’ve often heard people say that they love pottering around gardens, but what they also want is proper work.”
Over the years, Organic Blooms has seen hundreds of trainees pass through its doors, often referred through social services. Following an apprenticeship, some move on to other horticultural work, but many have been employed by the business. Out of the current team of 16 people, 10 have come through the training scheme.
“We get people with a wide range of support needs,” says Jo. “They can do a job, but can’t necessarily fit into a normal working environment.
“We break the skills down so that someone with a learning disability or autism can do the tasks. We don’t want the people we work with to be peripheral, and just do weeding or watering. We want them to be core to the business.”
Since starting with just a few flowerbeds and providing bouquets for friends, Organic Blooms now delivers throughout the UK, runs a variety of courses and workshops, and has developed local and national partnerships. But the emphasis on being organic and promoting sustainability continues to be a guiding principle.
“Cut flowers are a luxury,” Jo says. “If you knew how they are traditionally grown, and the cost to the planet, you wouldn’t enjoy them as much.
“I think people are starting to look at sustainable lifestyles beyond food now, and questioning the environmental impact of everything they buy. We have got to be responsible.”
For more information about the flowers, the apprenticeships, or volunteering, go to www.organicblooms.co.uk
By Theo Hooper