Volunteers dig in to make allotment scheme more popular than ever - SLIDESHOW

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FOR 10 years a remarkable community project has been quietly thriving on a patch of land in north Sheffield.

The LEAF project - Local Enterprises Around Food - was set up on Norwood allotments in 2001 to teach people the pleasures of growing and cooking their own food.

Since then hundreds of people have picked up a spade on the plot off Herries Road and the scheme is more successful than ever.

For weeks now 60 regular volunteers have been working hard to prepare the patch for an open evening as part of the Sheffield Environment Weeks.

Nick Ward, LEAF chairman, said: “The idea was to showcase the work we have done here and give local people a chance to wander round the plots. We’ve had a great reaction.”

Since its formation LEAF has taken on a therapeutic role, helping residents of local nursing homes and people with mental and physical disabilities.

“We have tried to shift the focus to those who are marginalised in society,” Nick said.

Diane Cocker, LEAF’s horticultural project worker, added: “People like it here because we aren’t associated with the health services. It’s something completely different from other parts of their lives.”

Most volunteers who turn up to the three, weekly sessions are from nearby Southey, Parson Cross and Shirecliffe.

Matt Fisher, aged 32, from Boynton Crescent, Norwood, has been coming to LEAF for around seven years with his son Kyle, 11.

“I’ve been a single father since Kyle was six months old,” he said. “I’ve been unemployed for a long time, and this gives me something to do. I come here most days.

“I’d love to have a job, but there’s no work about.”

Gary Cragg, 29, from Stocksbridge, first came to LEAF when he was referred by the health service.

“I’ve been poorly all my life and I can’t work,” he said. “I first came for the therapy allotment group and I kept coming.”

Gary enjoys the gardening so much he has cleared a patch of land for his own allotment, where he is growing everything from onions to cabbages to horseradish.

“I still live at home,” he said. “This gets me out from under my mum’s feet.”

Ian Ward, 51, from Southey Green, said: “The great thing is the variety of people who come here. People who are retired, kids, families, people with mental health problems, people who like gardening.

“It gives people the ability to learn new skills, gives them confidence. I’ve always been a keen gardener and I can pass my knowledge on.

“Most nights we have a bonfire and cook a meal on the site. When we harvest the produce everyone takes something home.”

Recently, the project has acquired seven beehives and a greenhouse, and has started providing its own electricity with stationary bikes. With funding due to run out this year, members are hoping to apply for charitable status.