Reap the rewards together

Elsie Paton enjoys her gardening lesson at Lochend
Elsie Paton enjoys her gardening lesson at Lochend
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WHAT better way is there to get to know the neighbours than a good old natter over the garden fence?

But how about if there was no fence, in fact, if the neighbours were actually in the garden with you, helping to build the shed and tend the raised beds?

That’s exactly what the Lochend Community Growing project is all about – although the organisers aren’t expecting an entire neighbourhood to pile into one resident’s garden.

Instead, they’ve taken over a patch of neglected grassland, backing on to several homes, and are transforming it into a community garden, complete with polytunnel, raised beds, compost loo and orchard. This week, the scheme received planning permission from Edinburgh City Council and, today, residents are out in force, building the raised beds to be tended by individual families and jointly by the community.

But for Carr Gomm, the charity that’s the driving force behind the scheme, the gardening isn’t the most vital part.

“The gardening is really important,” explains Carr Gomm’s George Lang. “But it’s a means to an end, about how to get people talking to each other.”

The charity provides support and accommodation for vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities. The gardening idea came about after several people with mental health problems were given homes in the area by the charity and staff wanted to make sure their conditions didn’t put people off getting to know them.

“You know what it’s like when you move to a new area, you don’t know that many people and it can be difficult to get to know your neighbours at the best of times,” says George.

“And perhaps if you have behaviour or ways of being that people don’t react well to, so other people find you a bit challenging, it makes it even more difficult to get to know you.”

So the idea of the garden was born, with a vision of paths and beds raised to the right height for those in wheelchairs and seating for those too frail to garden. Local residents were asked if they wanted to get involved – now around 100 are on board.

Of course, the idea of a community garden isn’t new – several have sprung up in the city in recent years as residents have reclaimed abandoned communal areas. But George says this particular scheme is unique in several ways, not least because it is the only one in Edinburgh with its own key worker, Ally Hurcikova, whose job it is to knock on doors, trying to get people involved.

Among those who have been inspired to pick up a trowel is Wendy Miller. The 55-year-old, who lives in Portobello Road, says: “I’ve been cutting back brambles, digging, raking and putting down plastic membranes. I like learning about the plants and the herbs and I have got chatting to a couple of very nice people.”

Kirstie Paton, whose home backs on to the garden, is hoping to get a family plot where she and husband, David, 38, can introduce their daughter, Elsie, two, to gardening. “We’re going to try growing some basic vegetables – beetroots, carrots, potatoes. It will be nice to show Elsie where vegetables come from,” says the 36-year-old.

“And I do like the idea that it’s the community I live in doing it. I moved here ten years ago but I don’t know that many people, except my immediate neighbours. Everyone will be starting from the beginning together so we’ll all be able to help each other out.”

Which is exactly what George is hoping for. The charity’s involvement in the scheme – which is being run in partnership with community garden expert Re-Solution – will last for two years, after which it will be up to the residents to keep it going.

“We are not hiring a company to build the shed, they are doing it themselves. So if they need to build another shed in the future, they will have the skills to do it,” he says. “Come springtime we will be running courses with people on how to grow fruit and vegetables.”

For details, contact Ally Hurcikova on 07824 838364 or allyhurcikova@carrgomm.org