Mental Health, Environmental Savvy and Social Justice: Let's Meet Up at The Coach House Trust Open Day

Feature by Anna Battista | 15 Jun 2006

Last year's gathering was a joyful event, with African and Chinese bands playing, people taking part in outdoor activities, and generally enjoying themselves. But the 2006 open day at the Coach House Trust promises to be even more exciting as it will feature more activities such as poetry readings, live music sessions, barbecues, workshops, tree climbing, composting competitions, vegetable and plant sales, and a chance to wander in the amazing gardens of the Trust. "We've been doing this since 1997, but it has been going better and better," Sheila Richard, CHT Project Manager, states, "it's basically a nice big party, so that people can come and see what we've done throughout the year."

The Coach House Trust originated in 1996 when the local residents around Belmont Lane, near Kelvinbridge, in Glasgow, became concerned about some sites in the area that had been left empty after a few buildings had been demolished. The empty sites were affecting the community and the Belmont Lane Community Gardens Association was formed to address this need. At the same time, Sheila was working with people who had come out of long-term institutional care and wanted to be involved in the community they lived in, doing some voluntary and environmental work. The Association and Sheila joined forces and, one year later, they started working on the sites, turning them from heaps of overgrown greenery into beautiful gardens. Then, in 1998, they bought and restored the old coach houses in Belmont Lane and the Coach House Trust as we know it was finally set up.

Since then, the CHT has expanded, providing workshops in different areas such as gardening, recycling, composting, woodworking, ceramics and fabrics - just to mention a few - for people recovering from problems associated with mental health, chaotic lifestyles, drug and alcohol misuse, and learning difficulties. "For a lot of people who have been in a hospital, the skills or the jobs they had before being hospitalised don't even exist anymore, so it's a whole retraining, reskilling and motivating process you have to go through with them," Sheila explains, "but you can come here and try several workshops and be sure you'll find the one you really want to specialise in." Sheila defines the approach they have at the Trust as "holistic"; "We try to get the person feeling confident enough to go forward with their lives," she says, "that's the aim really, and now that the whole political push is to get people out into employment, it's even more important."

One of the main projects the CHT is working on at present is in the field of recycling: as well as operating a "bring site" at Belmont Lane where recyclers from the local community bring everything from kitchen waste to glass bottles, cans, paper and plastics, the trading arm of the Trust, CHT Sustainable Futures Ltd, has just taken the lease of a site at Buckley Farm and has licence for a composting operation. "The project will deliver employment, volunteering and training opportunities for the most disadvantaged members of the society, and it will allow us to take tenders and deliver contracts for the local authorities," Sheila states. Another green waste composting and timber and stone recycling project is based at Dawsholm Park Yard, while the Trust is also looking into restoring sites such as the Lambhill Stables on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal; "It's an old derelict building, but we are trying to create a training and community based activity up there," Sheila recounts, "and we are working with British Waterways and The Waterways Trust to raise the funding and restore the building as the community would like it."

More projects involve renewable energies and organising an art exhibition every three months at the CHT shop in Great Western Road; "There's always a lot going on here," Sheila claims, "you always have to keep the ball rolling and the dynamics going. The atmosphere we have here at the Coach House Trust is great, this is a safe environment with an international dimension, as we constantly have visitors and volunteers from all over the world, from Israel to Iraq, from Spain to Russia, and this is simply fantastic as it helps breaking down barriers."

Whether you are into gardens, outdoor activities and creative workshops, or simply want to have a bit of fun, the open day at the Coach House Trust might be what you're looking for, and, as a bonus, you might even learn more about recycling, the environment you live in and, above all, social inclusion.

The Coach House Trust Open Day, Sunday 25th June, 84 Belmont Lane, Kelvinbridge, Glasgow, 2.00-6.00 p.m.