Written in collaboration with ChoiSe Journal.
A perfect example of Civil Society acting upon what matters most in the local community, Earthworks is an organisation devoted to both social and environmental development.
Located in my hometown St. Albans, Hertfordshire Earthworks offers support to those with learning disabilities or mental health conditions by providing horticultural trainee schemes at their self-professed ‘3.5 acres of beautiful eco-gardens’.
Currently celebrating their 25th anniversary, the organisation has been providing invaluable work experience and community integration for a quarter of a century. Born from the ashes of social care rejuvenation which led to ‘the closure of five large psychiatric hospitals’, Earthworks spotted the issue with leaving residents in isolated community housing back in the 1990s.
Five years of preparation and research led to the eventual leasing of a two-acre site in St. Albans, the site on which Earthworks continues to adhere to their driving principle ‘to develop a place where all people are enabled to work together as equals’.
Free from profit gaining ideas, the organisation buffers the shortcomings of government policy and intervention, acting as the epitome of beneficial action from the ideals of the private sphere.
What exactly do Earthworks do?
Earthworks utilise the support of volunteers, local schools, and community groups to act upon their two-pronged approach of both social development and environmental sustainability.
The registered charity and those they support, aptly named earthworkers, work on the site which is not connected to the national grid and collects rainwater for irrigation. Power generation, visitor toilets, and site improvements are also carried out in ‘an environmentally sustainable manner’ – a design that many organisations could follow to help curb the detrimental impacts of climate change.
It is this work with the land that provides Earthworks with much of their revenue needed to continue their community work. Anything from fruit and veg, to seasonal crafts and plants are sold monthly at the St. Albans Farmers’ Market and continually at the Earthworks site. The earthworkers even have a hand in producing homemade apple juice and honey.
Enabling a sense of involvement with both the wider community and a working environment is obviously crucial to those Earthwork’s trainees, and it comes from the interventions and efforts of third-party actors devoid of business or governmental priorities.
Current Earthworks projects
Although shut temporarily to the general public, Earthworks continues to offer invaluable 1-1 sessions to their workers. They also have these exiting initiatives currently running:
The Dig for Plenty project commenced in 2016 and has since ‘provided earthworkers with their own allotment patches in which to grow plants and display crafts.’ Feeding into healthy eating initiatives while developing skills on a goal-based programme has proved an extremely successful model.
The Water Conservancy project entailed the installation of a 10,000-litre water tank that harvests rainfall and enables the site to work off the grid. Earthworkers worked alongside professionals at many points of the project, personifying the integrated community nature of Earthworks as an organisation.
Leading by example
This charity shows how ingenuity and compassion can build social ties for a whole community. The efforts of caring people can give essential aid to those who need it, while also looking out for the environment.
In a world where many businesses and governments choose to ignore their social and environmental duties, Earthworks proves the difference that individuals in the community can make. Their story provides a blueprint for organisations and individuals alike to follow, and who would not want to follow their mantra to ‘champion social inclusion and sustainability’?
How to help
The current situation is obviously damaging to the Earthworks way of operating, with the site currently closed to the public the next best option is to take the virtual tours.
However, there are plenty of other ways to support the organisation. Donating is a great way to get involved from wherever you are in the country, while fundraising for Earthworks is still an option while social distancing.
Still, involvement in Earthworks is not limited to raising funds, however important that may be. Those interested in making a difference can volunteer in many sections of the organisation, including the Board of Trustees, the Farmers’ Market, support on the site, or a student placement.