The Secret Garden of Let's Grow Telford
As part of #loveparks Week we are shining the spotlight on some of the park and green spaces initiatives happening within the Cities of Service authorities. Rachel Philips the Let’s Grow Community Involvement Officer, for Telford and Wrekin shares her experience of setting up the initiative.
Tucked away behind closed gates deep in the heart of Telford Town Park, a secret garden is bursting to life with home grown veg. Once home to shrubs waiting to be re-homed in the park, the beds have been weeded and cleared over the past three months by two groups of committed volunteers who are now working together to grow fresh food for the Food Bank.
The Friends of Telford Town park are a group of mostly retired, keen volunteers who spend every Wednesday looking after the Chelsea Gardens, planting, weeding, clearing and tending the garden. Rights and Fairness Telford’s Upstart group is a bunch of young unemployed people, keen to gain skills and experience which they can use to help find employment, and to relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety that many of them have suffered.
Sharing Skills and Labour;
Having met both of the groups, there appeared to be an opportunity to get them working more closely together, break down some barriers and to share some of the skills and experience that the diverse groups had. The Friends are mostly an older group, keen to get some young, strong labour in to help with the physical tasks, and the Upstart volunteers were in need of some support and understanding from a different generation.
Growing vegetables for the food bank appeared to be a good focus to motivate and encourage the groups to share the space and work together. With the help of a community gardener, the group planned their crops, sowed and transplanted seedlings into the raised beds, and now have a thriving garden full of courgettes, salad crops, tomatoes, herbs, turnips, kale, broccoli, peas, mangetout, carrots and radish. Upstart now join the Friends every Wednesday morning and focus on sowing, watering, weeding and harvesting crops. The groups work alongside each other, sharing skills and labour when needed.
The co-ordinator from the Food Bank now joins us on a weekly basis and helps harvest the crops, which then make their way into the food parcels that are sent out across Telford on a daily basis. The Upstart volunteers are now starting to design veg ID and budget recipe cards, to help users of the food bank know what to do with the fresh veg in their parcels. The staff at the Foodbank are asking their service users what veg they would find most useful in the parcels, so we can plan to grow the most popular requests in the next growing season.
The Upstart group have thrown themselves into the project and love seeing what is new on the plot every week. The Friends of the Town Park are busy tending the Chelsea gardens, but come and see how things are growing, help provide tools and water the beds. The Let’s Grow Facebook page has been warmly received by the public, and over 70 people are now following their growing exploits.
Highlights so far have included picking a bag full of peas, pulling up turnips the size of tennis balls, cutting bag full’s of fresh rocket and salad leaves, and drinking herb tea picked fresh from the plot. It’s lovely to see a range of people aged from 17 to mid 70’s from all different walks of life, some with health conditions and disabilities, all coming together with a common aim.
At the moment, there are plenty of volunteers to keep the garden growing, however volunteers often have limited time or move on to other things, so the challenge will be to maintain the momentum to ensure a good crop for next year.
“The biggest challenge the Let’s Grow Project faces at the moment is keeping up with demand.”
People seem to love the idea of taking back land and using it to grow produce, and we have had three enquiries in the past week from groups outside of the target areas that we are working in who want support with setting up growing spaces.
We’re currently planning our winter crop to ensure there will be fresh produce throughout the season, and looking at linking groups up so volunteers can share skills and practice. The gardens will be open during #loveparks Week and we will be welcoming new volunteers to get growing in Telford Town Park.