Jonathan Ensell, Roots to Fruit

Roots to Fruit team photo

Tell us about Roots to Fruit…

Company directors and childhood best friends Adam Holder and Jonathan Ensell, established the not-for-profit social enterprise Roots to Fruit in 2013. Since then we have worked tirelessly to create a business that delivers education and therapy through horticulture, gardening and the natural world to the broadest spectrum of people imaginable.

We have always seen Roots to Fruit as a patchwork quilt. Our services are accessed by such a diverse group of people, from adults with learning difficulties to people suffering from debilitating mental health issues. Running alongside all of this is our work with hundreds of primary school children every week, embedding and enriching the National Curriculum in around ten schools across the region.

Why are you passionate about this cause?

I’m a third generation horticulturist and run training courses in my father’s nursery (Oakdene Nurseries), in fact it has been said of our family that gardening is so ingrained that if you cut our veins not blood but compost would pour out. I also found a passion for helping people with learning difficulties in college and prison to develop confidence, skills, passions, and find a reason to live again through teaching a variety of horticultural programmes and qualifications. It is so rewarding to help someone with low self-esteem and low confidence accomplish their goal, and being there to hand them their certificate is a great privilege.

What was your biggest challenge in starting your social enterprise?

It took a lot of work emailing and networking, as well as putting on free events to promote Oakdene Nurseries, in order to build us a client base.

How has the School for Social Entrepreneurs supported you?

The SSE experience was a great investment of time; by using the tools and expertise they gave me it has most certainly paid off.  I came out of mainstream education because we had to fit in a box that got smaller and smaller until it became just about cranking people through qualifications rather than allowing them to develop and prepare them fully for their career. My enterprise is about thinking outside that box. SSE and the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start Up programme gave me the tools, confidence and ideas to make being able to do that work in a financially sustainable way.

Since graduation in 2014…

After graduating from the programme, we secured a variety of revenue streams and increased our social value within the wider community. Adam brokered an education training contract with a primary school in Erdington allowing the children access to their training centre nursery, allotments and orchard. This rural outdoor experience is a huge contrast to their own inner-city experiences. The experience has enriched their day-to-day education, but at the same time has also allowed us to create a service that mirrors government requirements. This is a skill that is embedded within the company, but the idea was the brain child of the SSE start up programme.

In search of high demand revenue streams Jonathan took the advice of his SSE learning mentor and pursued a new service: garden maintenance.  Roots to Fruit recruit adult learners who want to volunteer their time in exchange for a nationally and industry recognised horticultural qualification. The business skills learned through SSE are being passed onto new people. Five students have successfully established their own gardening businesses since attending the course.

Roots to Fruit have partnered with three community garden groups helping to facilitate and train local volunteers to start their own community gardens. The successful partnering with one community group enabled Roots to Fruit to receive a silver-gilt medal from RHS Britain in Bloom in 2016.

How does the future look for Roots to Fruit?

The future is very exciting for Roots to fruit. “Gardeners World Live this year [2019] is giving us our first opportunity to bring all of those separate strands together in one place to create something really unique and quite special.” We have also taken on Beautiful Border – a mini show garden – with the design, construction and cultivation of the plants undertaken by every person involved with Roots to Fruit. “This is perhaps our biggest ever undertaking.”  Jon said, “But we’re ready for it.  Gardeners World Live is a celebration of the well being horticulture can bring.  We’ve always known it, and it’s why we operate by the motto – cultivating great plants AND people.  This is our opportunity to prove it.”

What would your advice be to a budding social entrepreneur?

If you know people need your services and you really want your enterprise to succeed, persist and you will make it!

If you’ve been inspired by Jonathan’s story take a look at our courses and see how we can help make your idea a reality.


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