Roots and Shoots was established in Kennington in 1982 by Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, a charity working in North Lambeth since 1897. Its aim is to help young people with moderate learning disabilities acquire the necessary skills to find and keep employment.

The project was offered a site for the training activities by Lambeth Council at the Vauxhall Centre which had been previously used for training purposes by Civil Defence in World War II. This provided some basic buildings with enough ground to develop and cultivate for training purposes. At this time the only shrub on site was a large double white lilac bush.

The adjacent derelict half-acre area at the rear of the site had been a Meccano warehouse in the 1930s, then engineering workshops making parts for fighter planes, followed by vehicle engineering until demolition in 1979, when it became a fly-tipping site.

In the beginning

In 1982 Government funding was secured for an initial three-year Community Education Project (under the Youth Opportunities Programme). Vocational training areas in Horticulture and Woodwork were developed based on practical skills training, combined with a programme of basic education in English, maths and social skills.

This pattern of funding continued until 1994 when R&S was funded by the South Thames Training and Enterprise Council. This government 'quango' lost its government funding, which left most of the training organisations in south London without funding. Roots and Shoots was also badly affected financially, but with local community support and help from the newly elected Member of Parliament, Kate Hoey, the project survived. This was also a wake-up call to become more organised and not so dependent on one source of funding and the first business plan and strategy was established.

Steps to independence

The next major step was to become independent from Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in July 1997 with the first board of Trustees. Roots and Shoots became one of the first voluntary organisations to access the government's Single Regeneration Fund which helped improve the infrastructure of the site by putting in paths, drains and gates etc.

The organisation learned the hard way that financial reserves and a good set of accounts were essential to attract funding, so receiving £100,000 of public money from SRB made Roots and Shoots viable once more.

A new stream of government funding for training had terms and conditions linked to targets and outcomes and targets of achievement. This affected the young people who were able to access our training programmes: that is 16-19 years old as opposed to up to 25 years old. They still had learning, social and emotional needs, but not at such a profound level of need as our initial client group. We currently continue to concentrate on the 16-19 age group (or NEET- Not in Education or Training) to operate government-funded training programmes.

Building work

In the late 1990s the wartime-built buildings were beginning to deteriorate. The Roots and Shoots Trustees decided it was necessary to replace the old Hall building as it was no longer fit to use for training. The Trustees approved a new building design, planning permission was approved and funding sought. The final sum (£1.3 million) was raised from a wide range of charitable and government sources, the largest funders being the London Development Agency and the Community Fund (Lottery) and the smallest - £5 from a local pensioner (not to mention £100 won at the Lambeth Palace Fete's raffle with a 50p raffle ticket!).

The new building was completed in 2005 and it is from there that the main training and administration activities take place, including hall hire for meetings and conferences, which provides much needed self generated revenue to fund the building and its services.

Part of the LDA funding also allowed the Trustees to purchase the land from Lambeth Council to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation and its educational objectives. The land is approximately one acre in total and is very well placed in the heart of Kennington. Educational covenants have been put on the land as part of the terms and conditions of the purchase and also to protect the future of the charity's prime resource.

Onwards and upwards

2007 saw the refurbishment of the old war-time (barrage balloon platoon) prefab building that had previously served as an office/classroom. This has now been clad in Siberian Larch to match the main building and has been transformed into the Study Centre that serves both the Wildlife Garden and the environmental education arm of Roots and Shoots as an educational resource. This building is used by visiting school groups and many of the other visitors from the local and wider community and has adequate space for microscope workshops, film shows and other similar activities. Beekeeping training was run on a regular basis in conjunction with the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) until 2013 with very popular courses making a significant contribution to the rise in the popularity of beekeeping across London. We have also been managing approximately half an acre of public open space for London Borough of Lambeth since 2000. This is adjacent to the main R&S site and now provides a beautiful meadow-rich environment for community relaxation and learning.

The site of Roots and Shoots now provides many opportunities for formal training for our young trainees, environmental education of all members of local communities, special programmes and events for the local area (such as the "My Old China" ocal history day in 2011) not to mention recreational visiting - sitting in the gardens at lunch time!
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