GROW started its first community garden in North Belfast at the Waterworks nearly four years ago. As we established our garden and people got to know what we were trying to achieve, our numbers grew. On a small piece of unused ground at an interface thirty people came together each week to create a beautiful community garden. In addition to our weekly sessions, we started holding community events which were open to all.
During the second year we noticed that on a regular basis we would be approached by people enquiring how their older relative (mother, sister, father etc) could become involved in community gardening. They felt that their family member would really benefit from involvement in a GROW community garden. We explained that (at that time) we didn’t have the resources and that our current site at the Waterworks was not really set-up to work effectively with this particular group.
Given the obvious demand, we began to investigate the possibilities; what partners we might work with and how we might fund such a project. Around this time we met some residents from Camberwell Court and Newington Day Centre who were very enthusiastic, ‘go getters’ and very persuasive. They invited us to meet with other residents, members and staff to explore the possibilities.
Two years later, after much consultation with a range of organisations and a survey of older people in the area, GROW secured funding from the Big Lottery Fund Reaching Out Connecting Older People programme. This fund supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability, long term illness, isolation or those living in residential or sheltered accommodation. Over three years, our GROW Reaching Out Project will work over three sites – Newington Day Centre, Camberwell Court and the Waterworks.
HOW IS IT ALL GOING?
Well we have run over 72 different sessions over the three sites and more specifically;
At Camberwell Court Just three months into the project we have seen the polytunnel erected, a vegetable garden planned and developed and flowers in abundance. Even before the site was ready, because of the enthusiasm of residents, GROW started sessions with a group of 12 residents who were keen to get stuck in. Now residents and regular participants as well as family members are enjoying the fruits of their labour, taking cabbage, salad, scallions, courgettes, strawberries to their flats to cook for their dinner.
At Newington Day Centre GROW has been working with 16 members, combining table top growing sessions with cooking sessions. One of the challenges for GROW is how to make the sessions as interactive as possible at a site which has a relatively small outdoor space and where some of the members have significant mobility or other health needs.
At the Waterworks we have 30 regular participants over two days per week. This site is open to any older person living in the community. Our sessions are lively, involve much digging and weeding as well as lots of eating; as participants bring goodies made with produce from the garden including, carrot cake, beetroot cake, pesto, brochette to name but a few.
I think its fair to say that all those involved now understand that GROW isn’t just about the gardening – it’s as much about creating a sense of community, getting our hands dirty, growing and cooking food and having a bit of craic. Many of those who have involved never gardened before and that’s not a problem, because we all muck in together.
Although the core participants of the project are all 60+, we see the project developing into one which is very much multi generational with family, friends and local children in the area getting involved. That’s a bit down the road however. For now we are concentrating on creating beds for the many cabbage, radish, onion, pepper, salad and herb seedlings we have growing as well as planning our cut flower garden.
Just two of the comments we have heard over the past three weeks from participants at Camberwell……
#1 “I’ve never really been out the back before – I had no reason to come out, now I do”
#2 Two friends sitting on the bench at the garden on a rainy Saturday Morning “…she knows nothing about gardening and neither do I but I just love to get out into the fresh air and it’s just so beautiful out here and now there’s lots of going on out here…its great”
Exciting times ahead……watch this space…..
The last word….one of the key’s to the success ….
When entering into a partnership with any new organisation it can be a bit daunting. How will it go? How well will we communicate? How will we tackle (inevitable) challenges. From GROW’s perspective we think we have been very lucky, in terms of the two organisations we are working with to deliver the project.
We have found communications with both Camberwell Court and Newington Day Centre to be effective and timely while also enabling the project to evolve organically – as it were.January 28, 2013