The Earthworks Story

Fifteen years ago five large psychiatric and learning disability hospitals were situated in and around St Albans. Two of these were very close to the Earthworks site, Hill End Hospital and Cell Barnes Hospital (now the Highfield and Sovereign Park areas). With the closure of all but one of these hospitals (Harperbury Hospital still operates a limited service), residents were moved into scattered residential accommodation and encouraged to have active and fulfilled lives within the wider community.

In the past daytime activities were very limited within old established day centres (although no longer today). The Earthworks steering committee was established in 1990 to meet the aspirations of people with learning disabilities for social involvement and creative occupation. The aim was to enable the trainees to work alongside others as equals in every respect.

Following five years of extensive consultation with service users, carers and Social Services, land-based activity was identified as the most popular creative occupation. So it was that the volunteer steering committee agreed that a new venture should offer training and work experience in horticulture, conservation and construction.

In 1995 a two-acre site of waste ground off Hixberry Lane, St. Albans (next door to the site of Hill End Hospital) was rented from St Albans District Council and a range of activities for training and work experience were devised.

Some of our older trainees were long-term residents in Hill End and Cell Barnes hospitals and enjoyed helping out the farm’s orchards, gardens and farmland. They have doubtless seen some marked changes in health and social care over the past twenty years. Other younger trainees have no memory or experience of the hospitals or how things have changed.

In 1995 a full-time Project Leader was employed by the volunteer Management Committee and development of our training site at Hixberry Lane really took off. All construction was carried out by our own teams, using reclaimed materials where possible. We were very lucky to be helped out initially and throughout our first 15 years by many local schools and community groups.

It all started with an empty field into which we transported an old wartime building from one of the local hospitals for use as a site hut. Now we have a flourishing, multi-faceted site and are involved in different projects and ventures. Please take a look at these elsewhere on the website.


1996 Reclaimed wooden site building erected. Woodland and orchard planted.
1997 Compost toilets and reed bed sewage system installed.
1998 Propagation area and wildflower meadow started.
1999 Garden Contracts Project and Farmers’ Market stall begun.
2000 Wind turbine and solar PV panel installed. Tree nursery started. Millennium Maze Project in Highfield Park.
2001 New metal site building erected to replace wooden one destroyed in a fire. Wood stove installed for heating, burning waste wood.
2002 Market Garden Project started with the renovation of a large polytunnel. Dry river bed garden developed.
2003 Charcoal burning and willow workshops begin. Green Pennant award achieved.
2004 Straw bale/cob building started. Wildlife totem pole erected at the Millennium Maze. Green Pennant award renewed. Investors in People award achieved.
2005 Pathways and access points to the site widened to extend access for wheelchair users. Our tenth anniversary. A Members’ List for active supporters is created.
2006 Earthworks receives the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
2008 Earthworks provides training and assessment for the NPTC Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture. Many trainees subsequently gain their qualification.
2010 Our fifteenth anniversary. New toilets and plans to build a new wood working area.


An arson attack once again destroys the Earthworks site hut.

Three large sheltered work spaces constructed including workshop area for woodwork.






Construction begins on a new Earthworks site HQ.

The  new Oak Framed Eco-Building is completed and named  ‘The Warren’ in tribute to Lynette Warren, a long standing Earthworks Trustee, who passed away before it’s completion.

Our twentieth anniversary. The car park area is renovated to prevent flooding and Earthworks holds it’s first Christmas fair

Bespoke marquee sides are added to wood shelter areas creating an indoor work and event space. The solar PV lighting system is expanded to include lighting for the marquee and car park areas. Earthworkers given their own growing plots.