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History and Heritage

From a derelict site in 1982, Roots and Shoots has grown to become a well-established and respected vocational training organisation with biodiverse wildlife gardens, offering a safe haven for both people and nature to flourish.

Late-1970s - 1982 A New Project

In the late 1970s Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, a charity working on social initiatives in Lambeth since 1897, was looking to establish a new training centre due to concern from St Thomas’ trustees, the local education department and Lambeth social services, that local young people leaving special needs schools did not have the skills to find and keep employment. They applied under the then-Government’s ‘Youth Opportunities Fund’ to set up a new project, named ‘Roots and Shoots’.

When originally planned, the project focused on breeding rabbits for meat and fur, and growing raspberries to sell. That changed when the manager for the project was hired. RBG Kew trained gardener Linda Phillips MBE AoH, who persuaded LMHS that horticulture would provide all the transferable skills required to get young people with learning disabilities on their feet and ready for work.

The project was offered a site for the training activities by Lambeth Council at the ‘Vauxhall Centre’, as it was known, which had been previously built and used for training purposes by Civil Defence in World War II. The site provided some basic buildings with enough ground to develop and cultivate for training purposes. Despite the derelict site having only a single white lilac bush growing on it, Linda saw enormous potential for it to be transformed into a beautiful green space for all.

8th March 1982 The Roots and Shoots Project Begins

The Roots and Shoots project’s aim was to help young people with moderate learning disabilities acquire the necessary skills to find and keep employment. From the beginning a structured programme was devised, with the local health authority providing a speech therapist, a psychologist, and an occupational therapist. 

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. 

On 8 March 1982, the project began with four members of staff and four students, growing to 18 students over the first year. As part of their vocational training, students and staff began to rejuvenate the site together, starting with the enormous job of digging out huge amounts of concrete, barbed wire and other building rubble from the ground.

16th September 1982 Welcome Party

In September, there was a celebratory party with the local community, where the now-iconic Roots and Shoots walnut tree was planted by Linda Phillips and Councillor Greenwood. It was the first tree on site. The party marked the beginning of Roots and Shoots building strong community ties which have only grown in the following 40 years. Read more about our Community Impact.

1982 - 1985 - Rejuvenating the Site

Once the site had been cleared, three large polytunnels and raised beds were built so the students could grow plants including geraniums, petunias, busy lizzies and lobelia, with vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuces. 

These plants were sold to the local community on afternoons and Saturdays by students and staff, providing more work experience opportunities and helping to make Lambeth a more green place. 

In 1985, after the three first successful years, the Roots and Shoots project was offered an ongoing government contract to continue. 

1986 - Roots and Shoots Site Expansion

Historically, the adjacent derelict half-acre area at the rear of the Roots and Shoots Vauxhall Centre site had been a Meccano metal work factory in WW2 making parts for fighter planes. It then became garages until demolition in 1979, when it became an abandoned fly-tipping site with a thicket of buddleia. In the 70s and 80s several plans had been suggested by the local community to use the site, but with the large amount of work required to clear it, none came to fruition.

In 1986, Roots and Shoots received a grant of £2000 to rent this extra land, and turn the fly-tipping site into a beautiful garden. This extra land doubled the size of the Roots and Shoots site. Over the next two years, students and staff transformed the area, clearing the buddleia jungle and huge amounts of rubbish which had been fly tipped over the past decades, along with rubble and industrial waste from its historical industrial use.

1986-1988 - Building the Wild Garden

Following its clearing, the Wild Garden was designed in the style of a classic English formal garden. £13,000 was raised to build it, but only £2000 of this went to the garden itself as the council dictated that, as it was a conservation area, a special boundary fence had to be built at the cost of £11,000. Local people donated money to buy roses and plants, some of which still thrive in the garden today.

Students and staff laid the paths, assisted by volunteers Formal flowering beds filled with shrub roses and cottage garden plants were created, and a van-load of trees, donated by Royal Botanical Gardens Kew nursery, were planted.