“The therapeutic benefits are clear to see” – our day volunteering at a community allotment

Volunteer day

A group of Allia staff spent the day digging, sawing, planting, painting and willow weaving at a community garden project run by local homelessness charity Cambridge Cyrenians recently.

The Allia team worked in two groups together with the Cambridge Cyrenians’ participants on projects that Ruth, the project manager, had arranged for the day. One group learning the ancient art of willow weaving to create a handmade fence around one of the vegetable beds. The other group helped to build ‘A wheel of the year’ garden, celebrating the eight annual festivals based on the cyclical seasons, traditionally celebrated by the Celtic people. They created living willow arches, building raised beds from railway sleepers planted up with native seasonal perennials and shrubs.

Willow weaving

The allotment is run by Cambridge Cyrenians, a local homelessness charity. It’s an amazing space for local homeless people to visit, be part of, learn about plants and growing, and have some respite from their issues and life on the streets. It is run as therapeutic project, Ruth is a trained project worker, Forest School teacher and coach & is qualified in Therapeutic Horticulture. More about the project here.

Incorporating Allia values

Allia provides their team with a day paid volunteering each year to enable them to get involved in a community project and support a cause they are interested in, sharing their time and skills and in turn, learning from the experience. This year, many of the team chose to do this together at the Community Allotment project.

Lucy, Head of HR at Allia commented on the value of volunteering for the team: “By having volunteering days, Allia’s team can have a direct impact on the community in which it works. Volunteering gives our employees the chance to build connections with their local communities and give back to society while working on issues they feel passionate about. In pulling together for a common goal, especially when it’s for a charity or community project, it enables greater teamwork and increases morale whilst often learning new skills”.

Natalie, Group Financial Controller added: “I really enjoyed the day and meeting the team at the allotment project. I worked on the fence weaving and really enjoyed learning a new skill – I perhaps focused too much on getting each piece of willow exactly right, but when you stepped back it all came together and looked really beautiful.”

The community garden holds such special value to those who work there”

Whether it is streaming sunshine, or torrential rain, the Cyrenians’ group participants head over to the community allotment which provides specific horticulture training, supported work experience and a safe social environment for some of the most disadvantaged people in the city. Participants are encouraged to get involved in all aspects of the project from growing vegetables and weeding, to tending to their beehive!

Jane, Allia Company Secretary said: “It was great to do something practical to help such a great community; I fully appreciate how the community garden holds such special value to those who work there and the therapeutic benefits are clear to see. I look forward to seeing how the garden progresses and hope to volunteer again one day”.

Martin, CEO of Allia Impact added: “What a great experience on a number of levels: To discover a hidden oasis of calm under the shadow of the Cambridge United away stand where there is no traffic noise and you can feel at one with nature; and to enter a skillfully designed space with a mix of productive and wild areas that unlock different experiences for the clients who use it. Seeing all this used to help people on the journey to recovery from homelessness and other traumas was very moving and a brilliant thing to do as a work team. I learnt that one of my colleagues has a natural aptitude for willow fencing that the rest of us could only aspire to!”

Out of the office and into the great outdoors

The Allia team that came together were all from different departments and Future Business Centre locations, all supporting the running of the business in different ways – from our inspiring venture support team who run business support programmes for impact founders and small business owners, to our amazing HR, marketing and accounts team who all help to keep it all going behind the scenes! Regardless of their role, the Allia team tend to spend a lot of time at their desks, working away at their computer screens.  

Marina, our Cambridge Programme Manager said: “Working on the Cyrenians community allotment really was a highlight for me! Working together in as a group in nature was so rewarding and re-energizing that I ended the day with a big smile on my face! It was so nice to take some time away from the screen and the digital world and go back to our roots. Thank you to Ruth & the group for having us; Cyrenians is a really wonderful charity!!”


Ruth Wood, Project Manager at Cambridge Cyrenians said: “Our community garden is a large, natural and therapeutic space near the heart of the city where Cambridge homeless and vulnerably housed people come together for growing and cooking vegetables; forest crafts and fire skills; meaningful occupation and mutual aid support. The benefits for group members include physical, mental and emotional health; being part of a positive community; a connection to and understanding of the wider environment.

As volunteers to the project, it was clear to see the amazing impact this project has on its participants and how it has improved participants’ quality of life, and their mental and physical health. The groups mixed well together, picking up tools and sharing jobs to ensure the activities were completed and looked amazing – all whilst chatting and having fun! It was clear the project participants had all grown in confidence as they led some of the activities and really got involved with the Allia team – some even hope to go back to the project and become regular volunteers with the group.