Awen Cultural Trust has launched a new initiative for the trainees at B-Leaf in Bryngarw Country Park. ‘Madarch Bryngarw / Bryngarw Mushrooms’ will involve adults with learning disabilities growing exotic edible mushrooms more commonly found in East Asia.

By learning to grow and cultivate fresh shiitake, oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms to a standard that can be used in professional kitchens, thanks to their five star food hygiene rating, trainees will develop important new skills which will help them lead more independent and confident lives.

Shiitakes, oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms are not usually grown in the UK due to the specific humidity and weather conditions they need to thrive. With no other locally known growers, this project will provide chefs and home cooks with a rare source of high-grade fresh exotic mushrooms.

“Unlike conventional varieties of mushrooms which grow in compost, our mushrooms will be cultivated from spawned, chemical-free blocks of British oak,” explains Chris Britton, Training and Services Development Manager at Awen, the charity that manages B-Leaf in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council.

“We will be using a range of specialist equipment to replicate the very specific conditions and humidity levels found in the fungi’s preferred East Asian climate, within a steel container located in the grounds of B-Leaf.”

The initiative has been set up with consultancy support from Cynan Jones, who established Madarch Cymru (previously known as The Mushroom Garden), a specialist mushroom growing and drying company based at two sites in Beddgelert, Gwynedd and Llanerfyl, Powys, 14 years ago.

A chance meeting between Cynan and Alun Jones, Head of Social Investment Cymru at Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and a conversation about the mushrooms on Cynan’s business card sparked a conversation which linked him with B-Leaf!

Alun commented: “It only goes to prove that what they say about two degrees of separation in Wales is perfectly true. I’m only too pleased to show what WCVA’s official mission to ‘be a catalyst for positive change by connecting, enabling and influencing can really mean something in practice.”

‘Madarch Bryngarw / Bryngarw Mushrooms’ will distribute its produce to Madarch Cymru, directly to local restaurants and retailers, and sell to customers at B-Leaf.

The produce will be stored and transported in a refrigerated trailer, which has been funded by an Integrated Care Fund grant from Cwm Taf Regional Partnership Board and administered by Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations. Marketing support has been provided by Cywain.

There are also plans to put these mushrooms on the menus at Bryngarw House near Bridgend and the cafes at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl and Bryngarw Country Park, in line with Awen’s commitment to using fresh local produce at their venues to minimise the charity’s carbon footprint.

Richard Hughes, Chief Executive of Awen Cultural Trust, added:

“Whilst it is exciting to be bringing a high quality, distinctively Welsh, new food product to market, and supporting a greener local economy, this project is primarily about the trainees at B-Leaf, and giving them a different type of training experience.

“We are positive that ‘Madarch Bryngarw / Bryngarw Mushrooms’ will not only provide our trainees with opportunities to learn a whole raft of new skills that will stimulate their mental, emotional and social growth, but a brand new interest to get involved in and excited about.”

‘Madarch Bryngarw / Bryngarw Mushrooms’ will run alongside B-Leaf’s existing work programme of growing and selling plants and hanging baskets during the summer months, retailing Christmas trees and wreaths in winter, and carrying out a range of grounds maintenance services.