John Preston and TCV – Why we do what we do

It’s been just over a year since TCV started their green Gym at Inkwell. The work they have done in the garden is regularly featured here on the blog and I think we can all agree that it is astonishing what achievements have been made in such a short time. Our garden looks loved and nurtured and only the other day we all enjoy a delicious homemade homegrown Squash Cake made by the lovely Sarah Leoroyd who leads the garden group.

We invited John Preston, manager of Hollybush, to write a blog piece for us telling more about TCV, it’s roots and the wonderful work that they do, not just at Inkwell but all over Leeds.


Sarah Leoroyd with the daily harvest from the garden

Why we do what we do

As we approach the first anniversary of the decision to base the North Leeds Green Gym at Inkwell it seemed a good time to write about the background to this project and to reflect on the services we provide.

The Conservation Volunteers (previously BTCV) began as a means to manage nature reserves back in the early days of conservation management and the establishment of National Parks (1959). Over five decades The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) have moved to a more local and people focused delivery.



The Inkwell Garden


TCV Hollybush in Kirkstall is one of the larger centres and has 30 years of continuous delivery of day projects. One minibus taking volunteers out to plant trees, build walls and repair footpaths has grown to three minibuses and a varied programme of Centre based activities in gardening, woodwork , cookery and craft .  10 volunteers a day has grown to over 50, with typically well over 100 people a week.

The development of a service that takes pride in welcoming a broad range of abilities and additional needs has been a slow evolution over more than twenty years. TCV Hollybush is not a specialist in any particular group such as learning disability or mental health but a provider of environmental activities.


We work closely with other agencies to take referrals and to ensure people have access to appropriate support. One example of this is our link with Leeds Mind that goes back at least 10 years. In addition to Leeds Mind service users coming to Hollybush as part of their recovery there has been Leeds MIND staff on TCV courses about managing practical projects and TCV staff being trained in the essentials of mental health.

I had previously discussed over several years with Mark Lee (Leeds Minds Operation Director)  the potential to work together on a Green Gym project. In October 2011 Hollybush was offered the chance to host a new Green Gym through generous one year funding from the new Health Lottery (those five people in brightly coloured wigs). I can still remember the excitement of seeing the big space and potential of the Inkwell Garden for the first time despite the damp grey afternoon.

The synergy between our approach and the Inkwell team is incredible, the welcome we have received is tremendous. We face the uncertainty of next year’s funding from a foundation of strength.

In future postings I’ll explore and discuss how we run our programmes and invite comment.


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