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Volunteers dig deep for community garden

3 June 2013

Volunteers are the lifeblood of so many of the projects awarded grants by the Big Lottery Fund and what better time to acknowledge the work they do than during Volunteers’ Week.

BIG’s Sue Barsby dropped in on the New Shoots Gardening Club in Leicester to hear more about the creation of garden space for the whole community. Come rain or shine, a dedicated group of volunteers worked hard to make their BIG-funded project as successful as it could be.

“Gardening is good for the soul,” declares Jonathan Bullough. “I’m sure of it.”

Gardening club volunteers

Volunteers were vital to the success of the New Shoots Gardening Club

It certainly appears good for the volunteers of the New Shoots Gardening Club who have created a community garden at Hamilton Library in Leicester. The club formed in 2009, after founder members Graham and Clare Cole moved to the area.

“It’s a brand new housing estate, still being built in places, and there were no community facilities,” says Graham.

“We wanted to do something that brought people together so we formed the club and started out doing things like litter picking, planting up hanging baskets and having talks for gardening enthusiasts. Then the library approached us to ask if we would be interested in helping out with their garden.”

“There was a nice big area at the back of the library, just covered in grass,” says Val Smith, Hamilton’s librarian.

“I thought it would make a great garden and initially thought, maybe a couple of beds and a bench but with the help of the New Shoots club it’s become so much more.”

People gardening

Young and old got involved on the plot at Hamilton Library, Leicester

The club was awarded a £6,129 grant from BIG and enlisted the help of Penny Brown from the Royal Horticultural Society’s It’s Your Neighbourhood team and Jonathan from Leicester City Council’s Parks Services. However, the real work was done by a group of dedicated community volunteers.

Through the bitterly cold winter, the group turned up every Tuesday to work on the project. On some days the ground was so cold they couldn’t get the fork in to dig it but still they carried on.

“I looked forward to it, even in the cold,” says John Shroff, one of the main volunteers. “It’s become a very special project, for the community, from the community.”

“I was very happy to get involved,” says Stepson Mbewe, an asylum seeker who first came to the UK in 2011. “I got involved with the litter picking and then came here. It makes me very proud to see what we have done.”

The garden contains fruit trees, vegetable beds, flower beds and benches. The hardcore work was done by volunteers and a team of Community Payback offenders.

Community garden picture

The garden space the group helped create

“It’s not just about planting carrots, it’s the people you meet,” says Jonathan. “I’ve met such a range of dedicated and diverse people here; it teaches you about yourself and the dangers of stereotyping people. I’ve met people I’ll consider as friends for the rest of my life.”

Sue Barsby is Communications Officer in Big Lottery Fund East Midlands region.

Did you enjoy Sue’s blog? Do you volunteer for a project in your community? Leave your comments on the blog below or join the conversation on Twitter using #biglf.

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