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'Homeless and addicted to drugs' - how a gardening scheme changed a woman's life

PUBLISHED: 11:46 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:46 13 November 2019

Horticulture industry scheme Teejay at  Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Horticulture industry scheme Teejay at Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Archant

Homeless and addicted to drugs, Teejay Collins could not see a way out of a life of poverty and crime.

Horticulture industry scheme Teejay, Georgina and TimThetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANHorticulture industry scheme Teejay, Georgina and TimThetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

But just a year later, with the help of a gardening scheme, she says her future has never looked so bright.

The Horticulture Industry Scheme, at Thetford Garden Centre, offers paid placements to ex-offenders, prisoners or those at risk of offending, as a way to increase their confidence, learn valuable skills and get them back into work.

Ms Collins, who is 24 and from Edinburgh Way, grew up in the town and has had brushes with the law. She came to the scheme in May 2018 while she was living in a hostel and battling drug addictions.

But today Georgina Keatley and Tim Melvin, co-founders of the social enterprise, who have supported Ms Collins over the past year, say they are "immensely proud" of what she has achieved.

Horticulture industry scheme, Teejay at Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANHorticulture industry scheme, Teejay at Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

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Ms Collins said: "As soon as I started with these guys the amount of support they offered was amazing. I was homeless and on drugs. I had an addiction and if I didn't have them, I don't know where I would be now.

"Today I'm three months sober, I have a one-bedroom accommodation, I am doing agency work which pays my rent and I'm not on any benefits."

After completing a four-month paid work placement with the scheme, doing grounds maintenance and growing salad leaves and edible flowers for local high-end restaurants, Ms Collins is now doing agency work and hopes to find a full-time job.

Horticulture industry scheme, Teejay, Georgina and Tim at Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANHorticulture industry scheme, Teejay, Georgina and Tim at Thetford Garden Centre Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

"It has been difficult because I have mental health issues but the gardening really helped me," said Ms Collins.

"I have quite a long history with prison and with the police so it was nice that they put a lot of trust in me, I have never had that before. It gave me a sense of worth.

"A lot of people want to look into your past rather than what you're doing in the present and I do believe people deserve a second chance."

Ms Keatley added: "We are immensely proud of Teejay. She is reliable and hard working and really brilliant. We will continue to support her."

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