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National Citizen Service raise the roof with community project


A local group of young teenagers led by BCHA have helped begin the process of transforming the top floor of a local multi-storey car park into a community space called the Secret Roof Garden.

The youngsters were all taking part in National Citizen Service (NCS), a youth empowerment programme open to all 15-17 year olds across England, where teens volunteer for a local social action project they are passionate about. The Secret Roof Garden was one of 12 NCS Social Action projects that BCHA led during that week across Bournemouth Poole and East Dorset, and ten members from the NCST Management and Leadership team, including CEO, Michael Lynas, Marketing and Communications Director, Natasha Kizzie and Will Gallagher, Operations Director, came down from its headquarters in London for the day to visit the projects including the Secret Roof Garden.

Bournemouth-based charity organisation BCHA, which helps homeless and vulnerable people access the right housing, health, learning and work opportunities, is the largest provider of NCS in the Poole and Bournemouth area. Last year 193 NCS graduates volunteered 5,730 hours and raised over £3,500 for local community projects.

The Secret Roof Garden project, which is on the top floor of the Sovereign Centre’s multi-storey car park in Boscombe, is the brainchild of Mike French and Grounded Enterprises, which began as a non-profit Business earlier this year. Mike explains the background to the project, “I got involved in The Secret Garden in February 2015, the garden was two years old then and developed on derelict church land in Boscombe. Alan Kenny, an inspiring horticulturalist, headed it up with a vision to enable people to ‘feed my family, friends and community’. Regular volunteers come and help and learn skills, with the hope to grow their own at some point.”

The enterprise aspect of the project is to support local people in the Boscombe area to become self-sustaining, creating activity, community and employment. It has plans for mini enterprises as well as the central focus. It currently supplies food from three productive, natural growing sites and the car park will be the fourth. The project has also benefited from a batch of recycled rubber crumb turf from Littledown. This was donated by BH Live, one of the UK’s leading social enterprises which manages Littledown in partnership with Bournemouth Borough Council. This has been used by the NCS group to help create the roof top garden. Paul Tucker, Communications Manager at BCHA, said, “BCHA is incredibly grateful for the generous rubber crumb turf donation, which has been used not only at the car park, but also at a number of other Social Action projects locally, including the Springbourne Family Centre.”

Talking about how Grounded Enterprises became involved with the car park project, Mike continues, “The link was made when I was asked to attend a meeting with Sovereign Centre Managers, as I was an active environmental campaigner locally. We connected and realised the mutual benefit of a community growing space on the roof. Since then the Sustainable Food City Partnership has come on board and our collective vision is for a food centre and cafe up there. With the aim of teaching people to grow, cook and enjoy eating healthy food at home or together.”

The people involved in the project come from a variety of backgrounds, including people in recovery, those suffering mental health issues, as well as many professionals. Members of the vegan community, young mothers and children from local schools have also participated, with the NCS teenagers coming on board recently.

Mike got involved with NCS having known NCS Community Engagement Worker, Dominic Weir, from the local Hip Hop Music scene and having also taught a dance class for NCS which linked up with the garden project. Dominic, comments, “It’s always amazing to see the passion and enthusiasm amongst young people grow as they go through the various stages of the programme – from outward bound activities through to skills based workshops right through to the social action project.”

Mike said, “NCS have been a great asset to getting this roof project going. There is a huge amount to do on a very low budget, so it all helps. They raised £200 which we used for paint and building materials. They initiated a Pallet wall for herb growing and a pallet fence. The painstaking hours they spent pulling apart pallets and taking nails out was much appreciated.”

With the first stage of the Secret Roof Garden project now underway, Mike is already looking to the future. “Next we plant up some smaller veggies”, he reveals, “and then finish the walls for safety and aesthetic and make a stunning tranquil space. Next season we aim to raise a large sum of money to begin work on the food centre in the Spring.”

“However, Mike is relying on the goodwill of the community to help turn his vision into a reality. “We need all kinds of help”, he explains, “from practical skills to sponsorship or donations of materials. We can always use extra hands. Growing food can be simple but it takes commitment and hard work, so we need some core team players and others who can just dip in and out.”

NCS plan to bring another group of teenagers back to the project in the autumn, when more local Social Action projects will take place. Dominic Weir from BCHA, adds, “This story is an example of the positive impact young people can have on their communities; we just need to give them the tools, support and opportunities to realise their potential which is where programmes like NCS are so valuable. We’d encourage teens across the region to sign up this autumn.”

BCHA is looking for more on sign-ups for its Autumn Courses and is also seeking more Social Action Projects to support, so please get in touch on 01202 410550 or email

For more information or to sign up to the summer programme visit

Grounded Enterprises can be contacted via its Facebook page or you can call Mike on 07530987349.

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