The men at Maybrook Adult Training Centre are hard at work in the vegetable and herb garden on the Racecourse Road.
It’s Thursday afternoon and it’s time for the men’s weekly horticulture class with North West Regional College tutor Gareth Austin.
“It’s been raining all morning but just before we were due to start our work it stopped and the sun came out,” says day care worker Danny McLaughlin.
The centre’s vegetable and herb garden is nothing short of impressive.
The garden area was officially opened by the then mayor of Derry, Pat Ramsey, in 1999. After a while it became overgrown with weeds but two years ago Gareth Austin paid a visit to the centre.
“Since arriving here a few years ago Gareth and the men have completely transformed this place; it’s beautiful now,” says Danny, smiling.
Maybrook Adult Training Centre care for adults with learning disabilities.
Some of those involved in the gardening project are physically disabled but when it comes to weighing in and helping out all of the men want to do whatever they can.
“We have a diverse group of 12 men aged between 19 and 50. They love working outside.
“One of the men only has the use of one hand but every week he comes outside and picks up a spade or a rake and tries to do as much as he can to help out.
“The enthusiasm and dedication from the group is brilliant and they all look forward to their Thursday afternoons with Gareth,” explains Danny.
Gareth has helped the men at the centre to grow vegetables such as onions, potatoes and tomatoes. Some of the produce was even sold to some of the men’s veggie-loving parents.
“All of the money raised through the selling of vegetables and herbs has been put right back into the garden,” says Danny.
During the interview one of the men taps me on the shoulder and tells me that he wants to show me the tomatoes he has grown.
The man’s name is Damien and he’s determined to show off his handiwork.
“C’mon with me - it’s over here in the greenhouse,” says Damien.
There are several neatly placed green tomato plants in black pots on the ground of the small greenhouse.
“We did all of this,” says Damien. “Do you like it? My favourite vegetables to eat are the beans - they are very tasty. Would you like to take my picture?”
Damien selects which photo he would like to appear in the Sunday Journal before his friend and classmate Paul offers to have his picture taken as well.
“They just love working outside,” says Gareth Austin.
“They are a fantastic group to work with and although some of them are disabled they are so keen and determined to do whatever it is they can to help out here.
“I also think that they are a credit to the centre because when I started here this place was completely overgrown with weeds and rubbish but now, as a result of the men’s hard work, it has been transformed into an amazing vegetable and herb garden.
“Not only does it offer the men the chance to grow vegetables and herbs but it’s also a place that is very relaxing,” adds Gareth.
Day car worker Tommy McKay says that since the men started the project he has noticed “massive” improvements.
“Some of the men on the project might have behavioural issues whilst some have very little mobility. But when they are outside working in the garden it’s as if they forget where they are. They all turn into a team of hard-working gardeners and everyone lends a hand.
“Gareth created the flower beds so that some of our wheelchair users can access them and do what they can.
“It’s a fantastic project and it’s one the men all look forward to. It helps them with a variety of things but if it means that they are happy to be outside working every Thursday then that’s good enough for me,” says Tommy.