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How growing cannabis helped me to become an expert gardener – Manchester UK Evening News

How growing cannabis helped me to become an expert gardener

When Andy McConville suffered a mental health crisis he realised he could put his green fingers to better use

Andy McConville has landed his dream job – and he owes it all to the fact he used to be a cannabis farmer.

The 34-year-old horticultural specialist spent a decade growing weed for his own use at home.

It was only when he suffered a mental health crisis about three years ago that he realised he could put his green fingers to better use.

Andy, of Spotland, Rochdale, said: “My drugs journey started quite young. I experimented with all sorts of drugs and it took me to some dark places. But the only thing that helped was cannabis.

“I would smoke a couple of spliffs at night and before I knew it I was enjoying stuff again.

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Andrew McConville (Image: UGC MEN)

“But I had 10 years where I was growing weed where I just wasn’t part of society. I was lost. I wouldn’t answer the door, I didn’t go out.

“I had had some mad stuff happen to me and I ended up seeing a psychiatrist.

“He asked me what I enjoyed doing most and I said ‘growing’. It was a weird thing, I stumbled on it myself, but I knew straight away that’s where I found peace.”

Andy was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder around three years ago and as part of his treatment went to see a psychiatrist.

He said: “I should have had the diagnosis when I was about six or seven, but around that time my brother died, so they just put my behaviour down to depression. So for years I thought I was just off my head.

“When I was younger I was told I was crazy, not with it, mental. To fit in with your peer groups you act out what people are telling you.

“So when I finally got my diagnosis it made total sense – it explained everything.”

He initially began smoking cannabis to help him cope with the symptoms of what he now knows is ADHD.

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Andrew McConville (Image: UGC MEN)

Andy estimates that he’s had between 250 to 280 jobs since he left school at the age of 15. He got his first job working for a plasterboard company, and has had scores of trade jobs ever since, from being a plumber, to joiner, fork lift driver to warehouse assistant. He’s also worked at an ice cream factory, which he said was great for getting free choc ices for lunch, and has been employed as a dog walker.

Following his diagnosis Andy, who grew up in Tameside, decided to put his gardening skills to good use.

He enrolled on a horticultural course at Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, and began volunteering at a community allotment run by homeless charity Petrus in the town.

And he now works at Todmorden Incredible Aqua Garden – a state-of-the-art hydroponics, aquaponics and permaculture garden centre.

“I began to focus what I learnt about growing cannabis into growing other plants,” said Andy. “I began looking at the organic side of things, nutrients.

“I never thought I would have a job doing what I loved.

“My life is branching out now. Everywhere I look there I am surrounded by plants all the time.

“There are new tastes, new knowledge, new people.

“There is only one way to deal with ADHD and that’s to chase happiness. You will not find a better medicine than happiness.”

Andy’s story is being told as part of Hidden Tales, a project in Rochdale run by Community Arts North West, which looks at the remarkable life-stories of eight people connected with homeless charity Petrus.

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Andrew McConville (Image: UGC MEN)

Others taking part include Sister Noel, a nun from Donegal in Ireland, who spent 32 years working in Kenya with babies and families whose mothers had died in childbirth, and Tanzeem Mahmood, who moved to the UK aged 14, with very little English. She now works for Rochdale Women’s Welfare Association, supporting South Asian women who are experiencing isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Hidden Tales, which launches on Tuesday, is a digital arts trail around the town centre where smartphone owners can access films, poems and stories inspired by the eight people taking part.

Sara Domville, CAN creative producer, says: “Our partnership with Petrus is a long-standing one, so we’ve got to know many of the volunteers and people seeking their support very well, seeing many glimpses of humanity’s finest attributes – faith, strength, kindness, honesty – that stop you in your tracks. It was so important that Hidden Tales, in offering a platform for these stories to be told, did so on those terms, finding the best in people through challenging times. Placing the work outside a gallery space, making the videos available digitally, on-site in Rochdale and via mobile phone means that the sense of reality becomes intentionally acute.”

Phil Foster, deputy coordinator at Petrus Community, said: “These stories are touching and honest portrayals of people overcoming challenges and show the importance of understanding and concern within our society.”

A live event is taking place taking place at The Vibe, Rochdale on Tuesday, October 17, from 2pm to 4pm, hosted by Mancunian wordsmith, Mike Garry, where the eight video portraits created for Hidden Tales will be shown.

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