The morning after the LandAid Run - limbs still aching - I visited Roots and Shoots in Lambeth, a project LandAid has supported over a number of years.
While there I heard the story of Daniel, a very troubled young boy, with a chequered history in the care system, low self-esteem, no educational achievements to show for the years in (and out) of school and few friends. He had turned up at Roots and Shoots with an over-worked social worker who saw this as a ‘last-chance saloon’ option.
Daniel was hugely unimpressed.
More comfortable in the concrete areas at the front of the site than in the green, wild and beautiful spaces beyond (as many of their new arrivals are), the staff watched and waited until Daniel slowly came ever so slightly out of his shell. Within days he was engaging with the programme they tailored for him; within weeks he was attending lessons regularly as well as mucking into the life of Roots and Shoots – working outdoors, weeding, planting, pruning, tidying. The impact on Daniel was phenomenal – on his health, his well-being, his sense of identity, and on his academic work – but there were hiccups along the way.
On one occasion, around Christmas time, Daniel got in to trouble with the police. He spent a short time in prison, but so profound was the sense of sanctuary he’d experienced there, that having been released late one very cold afternoon, the one place he made for, was the one place he thought of as home – Roots and Shoots. Closed for the evening, and desperate to make sure he got in first thing in the morning, Daniel curled up to sleep in the nearest telephone box he could find.
In the early hours of the morning, and suffering from the early stages of hypothermia, Daniel called for an ambulance which took him to nearby St Thomas’. He was looked after there until he was well enough to be discharged and to return to Roots and Shoots.
Linda explained that when he first arrived they discovered that, like many of the young people they work with, Daniel had never travelled outside the immediate neighbourhood into which he’d been born. He’d never even crossed the river, she added, a point dramatically underlined at that precise moment by the sonorous tolling of Big Ben – less than half a mile away.
I share this story, and the effect it had on me, as a reminder of what I hope you feel proud about in addition to your stellar performance around Regent’s Park two weeks ago. The money you help LandAid raise supports projects around the country working with some of the most disadvantaged young people in society. And every penny counts.