Sowing seeds of hope for north's youth and nature

Voting closes this weekend to choose Grow Wild's flagship project for Northern Ireland

Wildflowers can help pollinators thrive in urban settings like Belfast Picture by Colin Metcalfe

AN AMBITIOUS project needs your support to help create Northern Ireland's first wildflower seed hub while offering young people with a troubled history the chance to grasp a brighter future.

Public voting ends this weekend to pick the Grow Wild flagship project for the north, which will see the poll-topper receive £120,000 towards turning a blueprint for environmental and social progress at one site into a reality.

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund and led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Grow Wild is a UK-wide campaign, aiming to bring people together to transform a communal space by sowing and growing native wildflower plants.

In Belfast, the city council's biodiversity staff believe their proposal could help transform people's lives while creating an invaluable resource for preserving native wildflowers.

Biodiversity Officer Orla Maguire says that the local authority's City of Wildflowers project will “benefit a range of communities, groups and sites across the city” but will also reach out to young offenders at Hydebank Wood College by giving them the opportunity to learn new skills.

Officially opened in April, the college is geared towards providing young offenders with the education, training and support they need to have a fresh start once they return to the community.

Orla says that through the project, participants at Hydebank would be offered an “extensive training programme”, allowing them to play a pivotal role in creating a much-needed native wildflower seed hub.

Training would include all aspects of seed cultivation, collection, packaging and storage.

“It's an extensive training programme which will hopefully lead to future employment opportunities with much wider benefits to society,” Orla says.

The college first became involved with Grow Wild through its partnership with Start360, which provides support for vulnerable young people.

“Start360 introduced Grow Wild to the management of Hydebank College and from there the project idea developed. If the public vote for City of Wild Flowers then it will become a part of the daily life of Hydebank for those who are participating on it. The young people will be involved in growing, cultivating and packaging wild flower seeds that will be of benefit to the community and to Grow Wild going forward.

“The students will be benefit from participating in a project that is giving something back to the community. Alongside this they will learn new skills and gain expertise in an area that will benefit them on their release,” says Start360's justice services manager Ronan McGinley.

Beyond Hydebank, other benefits are envisaged, including planting wildflowers at Belfast Zoo and exploring their uses for the treatment of sick animals; using wildflowers to attract pollinator insects in Belfast's Botanic Gardens; and working with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra to focus on the medicinal use of wildflowers in treating humans.

Finally, communities across the city will enjoy the results of the project through the development of wildflower areas in parks and local sites, learning more about the preservation and benefits of wildflowers.

:: To vote for free for City of Wild Flowers call 0808 2287 701 or visit


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