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Sowing the seeds for a blooming future

16 September 2015
Kirsty McArdle

Kirsty McArdle

Bedfords Park Walled Garden, a community-focused food growing space in Havering atte Bower, has been transformed. Sitting within a nature reserve and an historical setting, the once derelict walled garden is now a beautiful and lively place where people are taught about food and how to grow their own. It also gives them the chance to gain valuable life and work skills, as Project Manager Kirsty McArdle of the charity Clear Village explains…

“The walled garden operated as a nursery and food-growing site from the 1770s until it was forced to close in 1999 and became completely overgrown and derelict.

“When I arrived the mountain of work facing us was quite daunting, but very quickly we gained a number of committed volunteers, contractors started  making the site safe, we bought much needed topsoil and started planting. Before we knew it we had plants springing up, walls being rebuilt and the council was helping clear the site.

“The Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food grant enabled us to start the project, repair and rejuvenate the infrastructure and develop our volunteer programme and restore the garden. Now the Reaching Communities grant is helping us to formalise our training and development programmes with an overall focus on health and wellbeing for our beneficiary groups – children, over 50’s, the unemployed, young adults with learning difficulties and young offenders.

“We have an amazing group of committed volunteers. They bring a wonderful energy to the garden that’s almost tangible. We have regular team meetings so they know everything that’s going on. They are encouraged to make suggestions and express themselves.”

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Mark Brookes, 49, from Romford:

“I really like getting here and away from the stress of London. I work 28 hours a week for a housing organisation as a quality auditor and I was looking to do something on my day off. I’m also the chair of People First in Havering as I have a learning disability. I don’t like sitting still, I like to be going out and doing something. I’ve got fitter since I’ve been here. It’s great to meet such a mix of people who all enjoy working in the walled garden.”

Steven Thrasher, 44, Romford:

“The job centre sent me on a work programme and I spent four weeks working here. Afterwards I asked if I could volunteer here twice a week. Now I’m on another work programme and I’ll be here for the next 26 weeks. I’ve been unemployed for six years though and am here to get experience gardening, learn about horticulture and gain new skills. With this new experience I hope I’ll be able to get some gardening work.”

Rhys Easman, 13, Hornchurch:

“My mum heard about the walled garden and I was on the Grow Cook Eat programme 2014.  I was interested in helping out here in the summer as I’ve always been interested in gardening and have grown strawberries at home. I help out in the classroom as a teaching assistant and explain about healthy eating and what percentage of a plate should contain fruit and veg, carbohydrates, meat and protein. I also get involved in the garden weeding, planting, growing runner beans and cherry trees. I’m interested in becoming a chef when I’m older.”

Margaret Evans, 76, Stapleford Abbotts and Mary Kitchener, 74, Romford meet every Tuesday to help out with jobs such as taking the seed pods off stalks of radishes to be sown in the garden and sold on.

Margaret: “I love gardening and meeting others for a chat. We’ve done some weeding, sowing. It gets you out and keeps you active.”

Mary: “It gets you out in the fresh air and mixing with other people. There’s a variety of people here and we have a laugh. We plant and weed and you get a sense of achievement.”

If you’d like to find out more about Bedfords Walled Garden, visit their website.

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