It was the rediscovery of a childhood love of gardening which helped Barry Stone to overcome the most difficult period of his life - and now his dedicated green fingers have been rewarded.
After years battling addictions and mental health problems, Barry, 51, was admitted to John Room House in Thetford in February 2013.
The hostel’s vegetable gardens reignited a dormant passion and he began to help out with growing fresh produce for the centre’s kitchen.
In March last year Barry joined 20 others on the two-day Breckland Master Gardeners induction course, helping him to improve his skills and pass them on to others.
Earlier this month, the hard-working horticulturalist received a Certificate for Volunteering Achievement from Gabbie Joyce, of Garden Organic, after clocking up more than 60 volunteer hours in the past year.
Barry now manages John Room House’s vegetable gardens, including a polytunnel with seasonal vegetables and herbs. After also discovering a knack for teaching he has engaged with other residents at the centre, some of whom suffer from severe emotional problems, and passed on his horticultural skills.
Cllr Lynda Turner, Breckland Council executive member for communities and environmental services, said: “Mr Stone is an inspirational figure for other residents and to other Master Gardeners, and his story reflects the capacity of gardening to provide social as well as nutritional and physical benefits.
“For anyone new to gardening and unsure where to start, having a knowledgeable and supportive mentor makes all the difference.”
Since the project was launched last year, 21 new Breckland Master Gardeners have been trained and appointed and between them have supported more than 400 new growers.
Cllr Turner said: “As we approach the second year of the project we are on the lookout for more green-fingered growers who want to use their knowledge and enthusiasm to inspire and mentor others.”
An induction training weekend is taking place on March 28 and 29. To find out more about the volunteer role or book a place on the course, contact Gabbie Joyce on 07584 583803 or see www.norfolk.mastergardeners.org.uk.