The West End boasts hidden gems aplenty. With its cobbled streets and tree-lined terraces, it can be a joy to explore the nooks and crannies of what’s right on our door step. But tucked away just off Great Western Road is the Coach House Trust, a stone-built sanctuary that’s easy to miss.
With social inclusion at the heart of its mission, the Belmont Lane charity works to empower vulnerable people to change their lives. People referred to the Trust may suffer from poor mental health, be recovering from addiction, have learning disabilities or have been homeless. They may have become isolated as a result of their circumstances and need a helping hand reintegrating into their community.
At the Coach House Trust they receive tailored workshops – in art, horticulture, music, healthy eating and IT – as well as continual support in order to overcome challenges and develop their potential.
Launched in 1998 from a log cabin still visible in one of their gardens, the Coach House Trust refurbished their current building before moving in 2003. The former outbuilding is now a quirky-but-tranquil getaway adorned with stained glass and artwork produced by service users. With light streaming through large windows into the open, bright space, it’s difficult to disagree with business manager Una Clive when she describes it as ‘good for the soul’. If there is a home for meaningful activity and empowerment then it must surely be this.
The charity’s involvement with the area reaches far beyond the ivy-strewn walls of its headquarters, though. Having developed several gap sites into workable spaces and charming gardens, they also sell produce grown from seed by their service users and volunteers from their market garden on Alderman Road, Knightswood.
Bespoke garden furniture and hanging baskets are also sold, while their team of professional gardeners provide landscaping under the moniker CH Contracts. At a time when available funding is decreasing, the charity looks to social enterprise to ensure they can do the most for their service users.
People are referred to the Coach House Trust through a variety of avenues – social workers, community psychiatric nurses and self-referral. Tutors harness the therapeutic benefits of horticulture and music but they’re keen for time spent there to be dictated by the clients themselves. ‘We are a person-centred organisation – it’s at the core of what we do,’ says Una. ‘It’s what the service users want and need.’
Promoting employability and the ability to move onto further education, the charity first makes a point of teaching skills which many of us may take for granted. Healthy eating workshops, for example, were identified as a necessity when staff realised the lunch they provided could be the only meal some service users would eat that day. And with technology becoming ever more ubiquitous, IT and smartphone workshops give clients access to a world they may otherwise have been excluded from.
‘You can actually see a direct correlation between people’s attendance and their confidence, their feeling of self worth, their ability to try new things and expand their geographical footprint. For some people, getting on a bus is a big challenge. Once they’ve done that, the next challenge upon arriving here is interacting with people they don’t know. And all these challenges that they’re supported to meet make a huge difference to their confidence and their ability to move on with their lives.’
The charity is staffed by a team of employees and volunteers who very much instil the idea of community into everything they do. ‘It’s a privilege to work with such a diverse bunch of people. It makes work worthwhile,’ says Una. When questioned as to the best way for the local community to support their work, she points to their seasonal fairs – equipped with stalls, face painting, a bouncy castle and produce for sale, locals are encouraged to attend.
They can also make use of CH Contracts, as opposed to a commercial business, for gardening jobs. Perhaps most importantly, though, people can think of them if they know anyone who would benefit from the charity’s services.
Winner of the People Make Glasgow ‘Inspiring City’ award in 2015 for their environmental work within communities, the organisation’s praises are best sung in testimonials from service users. The Coach House Trust is described as ‘a place of acceptance, friendship and motivation’ by one. ‘[The charity] has given me confidence and shown me how to live again,’ says another. ‘I’ll forever be grateful.’
As Una guides me between gardens, we bump into the music group who have just finished practising. The band insists on delaying their tea break so that they can play me a tune. Shortly after, as I’m treated to a great rendition of an Eagles song, I’m touched by just how tangible the organisation’s belief in people is. Their values are clear – we all have potential and everyone should have the opportunity to embrace theirs.