Since the project started a small team of dedicated staff have helped more than 400 people with long term substance abuse problems and mental health issues. The project gives people the opportunity to work for themselves growing salad, make money and learn business and agricultural skills on the job.
Outwardly it seems an unlikely career for Steve as his only previous experience of agriculture was growing “a few cannabis plants when I was in my 20s”.
But, after tackling his own addiction problems, he was “interested in why I was able to stop using drugs and other people just didn’t seem to be able to?”
He got a degree in addictions counselling but was quickly disillusioned with traditional approaches to recovery programmes. He began to develop his own approach which centred on hard work, being outside, growing food and an “authentic” work programme - The Severn Project was born.
“We are the bit that bolts on after residential treatment,” said Steve.
“We provide authentic education and training and employment for people who have had drug and alcohol problems as opposed to...a pottery class, CV writing class and a maths test.”
“This is a live commercial experience for people to get involved with. We are not saying ’you guys come over here and learn gardening’, we are saying ‘get involved with our business commercially producing salad throughout the year’.”
It has been a steep learning curve for the project which started with “no experience of growing food, no polytunnels, no money, no customers and no knowledge of Bristol”.
But Bristol businesses embraced the concept of The Severn Project from the start, though the company had no time to rest on its laurels.
“Being a community interest company for us has opened the door,” said Steve. “But quality and consistency and reliability have kept that door open.”
The project has until September 2015 on the land at Temple Meads until the bulldozers move in to create the new concert arena. The Whitchurch site should seamlessly take over but, never one to let the grass grown under his feet, Steve said they are “actively looking for more land at the moment” - long may the salad king reign!
Watch the video here.
Originally seen on Bristol 247, November 9, 2014