A GROUP running from unlikely town centre locations is proving that the community and the environment go hand-in-hand.

The Taunton Urban Farming Project, ran by Mark Wiggins, sees the growing and selling of fresh produce, recycling and reusing of what others would consider waste, and it gives opportunities to people who may be overlooked in society.

Mr Wiggins has teamed up with community interest group No Waste to look after pockets of land around the town centre.

The group has a number of sites around the town, including land behind Coffee 1 and a site on Wood Street, which is owned by Somerset West and Taunton Council.

“We have around 20 volunteers,” Mr Wiggins said.

“We help anyone with a barrier into work, for instance people struggling with mental health, who have learning disabilities, and people on long term unemployment.

“We never chase our volunteers to work. But we find the ones that turn up want to be here once they get into it.

“I am open and upfront about where our money goes from the beginning, and I outline their options for progress so they know what they can get to.”

Mr Wiggins doesn’t consider himself ‘the boss’ of the group, just the person responsible.

He added: “When you are inside, everything is in straight lines. You don’t have that outside.

“I don’t tell anyone what to do. I just say the jobs that need doing and if they want to do it, they can.

“There’s no pressure. If they just want to sit down and have a cup of tea, that’s what they will do and that’s fine.

“I’m not the boss, I’m just the facilitator.

“One of the volunteers, Billy, has great woodworking skills. We all learn from each other.”

Mr Wiggins has used his project as a way of keeping himself busy during a time of ill-health. He receives benefits as he is unable to work due to health problems, but he wanted to give back to the community when he feels able to.

He said: “I just needed something to get me off the sofa. I worry that if I stop, I’ll stop for good.”

Since June, Mark and his band of volunteers have saved more than seven tonnes of waste heading to landfill.

They use products others would consider ‘waste’ and turn it into useful items to grow produce.

If a customer buys food in a plastic tray, they are encouraged to bring it back so the group can reuse it.

They are currently in the process of obtaining a street vendor licence so they can sell their goods in Taunton to bring more money into the project.

“We are a carbon sink hole, we put back in more than we take out,” He added. “We buy local where we can and we are beginning to feel supported by the community.

“It’s difficult for people to understand at first, growing things from rubbish. But once they get it, they start telling people.”

As well as being given the use of the council site, the team are also allowed to use the nursery facilities, where they will be growing more produce and reducing waste.