RESIDENTS AND VOLUNTEERS GET GREEN-FINGERED TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY SPACE

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Galloway Gardens is a communal space in the heart of Rainham Close in Thorntree, Middlesbrough.

A resident had looked after the garden for many years, but it was left unattended when she sadly passed away. After some years of neglect, the current residents decided to carry on her legacy and bring the garden back to life to make it a tranquil place everyone could enjoy once more. But they knew they needed help to turn the dream into a reality, so they turned to Community Ventures and Middlesbrough Council who also reached out to the residents housing provider, Thirteen, for support.

Thirteen’s environmental specialist John Woods said: “When our customers said they wanted to renovate the area, we listened to their feedback and realised we could help them improve their environment and make the space a place everyone could enjoy. We were also able to enlist support from MVDA and You’ve Got This who were both able to bring valuable skills and funding support to the project.”

You watch a short video, made by Thirteen, about this project below.

With many of the residents of Rainham Close elderly, it was quickly identified that the space needed to be accessible for them and a place they could enjoy. Growing lots of vegetables and flowers was also high on the list. In addition, people wanted to spend time in a tranquil place and share produce amongst the community. Local people quickly got behind the project, and an army of volunteers, who all live in the area, stepped forward to take part.

Suganya Subramaniaraja from MVDA said, “The people of Thorntree have taken ownership of the garden; everything about it is for them because they told us what they wanted to achieve, we listened, and now we are implementing everything they asked.”

Liv, our Digital Support Officer, made the below vlog when she re-visited Thorntree for a quick update on how the residents were getting on in summer.

While Thirteen have been the real driving force behind getting resources for the garden and the initial tidy-up, the other organisations involved have greatly supported volunteers. With their help, the project will also offer horticulture training to those involved. John added: “People have been out painting accessible planters, made from recycled materials, ready for harvesting next year, we’ve also created compost heaps, and we are building habitats to attract wildlife. This project brings so many benefits to the community; it’s a place to meet new people, make friends and learn too. Connecting with nature is great for people’s mental health and wellbeing, plus it’s an opportunity for them also to be active as gardening is good exercise.”

Local councillor Janet Thompson, who has been involved in the project, said: ”Galloway Gardens is all about bringing the community together to work and support each other. It’s great to see the volunteers involved learn new skills and increase their confidence, and I’m proud to be part of it. We would like to see more people take ownership of green spaces, and hopefully, this could be the start of more garden projects locally.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have felt lonely and isolated due to inactivity, but the garden is also helping to address these issues by assisting older residents to feel more connected to their local community. Emma, one of the volunteers, explained, “We all feel like a big family now, and it’s done wonders for my mental health. Everyone looks forward to Tuesday because it means we get to come together to work on the garden and make it a special place.”

Carolyn, another volunteer, added, “Coming here gives me the chance to learn new skills, and I can bring the kids along too. As a family, we’ve also started taking part in Forest School Rewilding Adventure every Thursday. We love it and feel like proper outdoor types now.”

The volunteers have nothing but praise for the project. They are grateful to all of the organisations involved because it has become a real success story with their support.

“They made it easy for us all to work in collaboration, but we don’t like to call it a ‘collaboration’. The way we see it is that we are different people and organisations coming together with the same goal and doing this because we all believe in it” explained volunteer Peter.

A big highlight of the project is the feeling of family created between everyone involved. Sunganya added: “Galloway Gardens has brought so many people together. It has given them a goal to work towards, the opportunity to socialise and make new friends and learn new skills.” Peter added “The project is fantastic and a real boost for all the volunteers; it’s improved our mental health and given us a focus and purpose in life. We’re all doing this for the residents, as it means they don’t feel isolated, gives them a reason to leave the house, and it’s also a wonderful legacy for the lady that started it all those years ago.”

Reflecting on whether they could have done anything differently, Peter also said, “we are only just getting started, but everyone has put their all into cleaning up the garden. We are learning along the way and taking everything on board as we go.”

The future of Galloway Gardens looks bright. Volunteers recently met to talk about next year, and everyone was motivated to build on what they have already achieved. The volunteers hope to create an award-winning garden next year that the residents use and love and inspire similar garden projects across South Tees. There are also plans to put forward the garden for the Northumbria in Bloom awards next year. And with the festive holidays just around the corner, everyone should be taking a well-earned break and downing tools. However, Peter added, “we’ll still be keeping an eye on the garden over Christmas because we think of it as ours and we want to continue to look after it and make it a success.”

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