A Rhondda heritage and conservation project which uses gardening and nature as a way of improving people’s employability skills and wellbeing has been named the 2021 National Lottery Wales Project of the Year.

South Wales community garden and wellbeing wonder wins major awards

The Green Valley Conservation and Heritage project in Abercynon, Rhondda Cynon Taff, beat off stiff competition from more than 1500 organisations to reach the public voting stage in this year’s National Lottery Awards, which celebrate the inspirational people and projects who do extraordinary things with the help of National Lottery funding.  

The project has emerged as the Wales winner following the public vote which was held earlier this year.

The Green Valley Conservation and Heritage project is helping people from the former Welsh mining village of Abercynon to improve their employability skills and wellbeing through gardening and by connecting them with nature.  

Three years ago, the Cynon Valley Organic Adventures site, now home to the Green Valley Conservation and Heritage project, was just a derelict wasteland. Today, thanks to the support of £20,000 in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the outstanding efforts of many volunteers, it has been transformed into a community garden with allotment spaces which grow food for their foodbank, a café, a summer school and even a green gym. They also provide outdoor activities and programmes for disengaged youths and work closely with autistic young people and anyone experiencing mental health issues. 

The project has forged wide-ranging links with community groups, autistic support networks, job centres and schools, and accepts social prescription referrals from GP surgeries. The emphasis is on harnessing the benefits of nature to improve wellbeing and employability. 

One of the people who can vouch for the positive transformative nature of the project is 15-year-old Elan Gwyn from Pontypridd.
Elan left a formal school environment at 14 due to problems with anxiety. She began attending the project once a week and is now with them three days a week, undertaking numerous qualifications. Since joining the project, Elan has blossomed into a very confident individual and now has budding ambitions of becoming a successful entrepreneur. 

“At school I felt very unsettled, I had terrible anxiety and the formal school environment just wasn’t for me” says Elan.

“The learning environment at Cynon Valley Organic Adventures is much more suited to my needs and type of learning and I just feel like I fit in. I feel very comfortable here and I don’t feel pressured or judged. Everyone fits in and I’m just a lot happier as a person and my mental health is so much better.  

It’s an unique and different way of learning which has given me a lot of hope for the future. I’m doing a range of different qualifications here and currently undertaking a level one and two entrepreneurial course. I also help with various projects underway at the site, as well as supporting around the garden itself.

I definitely think it’s a place where people can grow. I know a lot of people who have come here with various problems and didn’t have a lot of confidence, but they’ve come here, and they’ve grown into different people. It’s a fantastic place for young people and people from all walks of life to grow.”

Delighted to be voted by the public as the Wales Project of the Year, Janis Werrett, the Director and Founder of Cynon Valley Organic Adventures, says:

“We are thrilled that our project has won this National Lottery Award and received this wonderful recognition. It’s all the more pleasing that the public voted for us. This award is a huge thank you to the dedication of everyone who made this project possible.

It's much more than a community garden - I see people like Elan growing all the time and watch all those little changes in them that they might not see in themselves.

When we first took on the site in 2018, we were told it was a liability because it was in such a bad state of neglect. We had no money, and we had no idea where it would come from.

None of this would have been possible without the support of National Lottery funding and the help of our dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly to restore and protect this valuable resource for their community.” 

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps projects like the Gren Valley Conservation and Heritage project continue to carry out incredible work in their communities. For more information about The National Lottery Awards visit www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk.

For further information please contact The National Lottery Awards: Oswyn Hughes on 07976 324 179 or email oswyn.hughes@lotterygoodcauses.org.uk