Stuart Middleton, Project Manager, Lovell Partnerships Ltd for the initiative Mental Health Site Garden

As one of its most experienced project managers, Stuart Middleton is an integral and well-respected member of the Lovell Partnership team who is responsible for delivering complex and high-profile residential and regeneration projects. Despite the responsibilities of his role, he takes a proactive approach in finding new ways to support his team, taking the time to nurture new talent, encourage diversity and promote sustainability.

Leading a quiet gardening revolution, Stuart has gone the extra mile during a difficult and challenging period to create an allotment and garden to support the mental health and wellbeing of his colleagues.

Recognising the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impact on the physical health, stress and anxiety of his co-workers, Stuart was concerned with the consequences of people not prioritising their mental health and pushing themselves back to work too soon after having the illness. With his long experience in the industry and work as one of Lovell’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) Ambassadors, Stuart’s natural empathy made him want to pursue this idea as an outlet for his team, both at Lovell and within the supply chain.

Stuart began putting his idea into practice by planting and seeding around the site accommodation of one of his projects using gardening equipment purchased from his own funds. Encouraging his team and subcontractors to get involved, Stuart co-ordinated donations and established areas for growing flowers and vegetables by reusing topsoil from the site and manure donated by a neighbouring farmer. Clarion Housing Association donated courgettes, the groundworkers brought a range of self-seeding flowers, and Stuart added potatoes and strawberries from his family’s garden.

Groundworker James Smith commented: “After the stresses of the pandemic, it has really cheered everyone up to have the garden to work on. I was surprised how much everyone pitched in to help but it shows how much it means to people to have this.”

The positive outcomes have been immeasurable. Stuart’s simple idea transformed the morale of the site, stress levels were noticeably down and people found it easier to start conversations whilst gardening. In an industry that suffers the weight of mental health issues and a high suicide rate, Stuart is a shining example of how to encourage the core principles of listening, empathy and employee wellbeing.

Seeing the difference the allotment and garden has made inspired Stuart to volunteer as a mental health first aider. It has also led to other improvements on site with Stuart putting forward ideas for geo-grow retaining walls as a sustainable alternative to ordinary retaining materials, and the introduction of bee bricks to encourage the local bee population.

The success of the garden has also spurred a sister site at Hopton (both sites are being completed on behalf of Repton Property Developments, the private development company of Norfolk County Council) and is being replicated on other Lovell schemes across the country.