York House Community Gardens Project
In October 2010, York House Centre, in partnership with Milton Keynes Mind (now Mind-BLMK), won an Ecominds grant of c£17,000 for the development of a Community Gardens project on some un-used and overgrown land to the rear of York House. Ecominds is a National Lottery Grant fund for environmental projects that help people who have experienced mental distress to get involved in local green activities to improve confidence, self esteem and physical health. The plots were allocated to local community groups to grow crops and interact to form a gardening community.
Work began in March 2011 to install basic paths allowing access to raised beds and a communal area with picnic tables. A water supply was installed and essential equipment such as new tools, wheelbarrows etc were purchased. A qualified supervisor was engaged by Mind-BLMK to engage with clients and run their weekly Gardening Group. We put a shout out for other community groups who might be interested in joining the project and we had quite a few enquiries….
We were ready to start growing!!
By June 2011, the project was well underway, the thistles were replaced with neat rows of potatoes, beans, carrots and even rhubarb!
What started out as a bright idea to grow a few crops on an under-used piece of community land has now turned into a fantastic outdoor project which is not only beneficial to the members of the various gardening groups but also to the whole town via the availability of a pleasant and attractive picnic area and the further development of Stony Stratford’s only public community centre.
In September 2014, the project was joined by local community interest company BranchOutMK CIC who provide horticultural therapy in a workplace setting for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. BranchOut moved their office/workshop to the top floor at York House and we have an agreement that they take responsibility for maintenance of the York House grounds, they are also heavily involved with the continuing development of the Community Gardens. This on-going partnership has proved very successful as the gardens have never looked better!
In January 2014 a group of over 30 Volunteers helped to plant our new ‘Community Orchard’ at the far end of the grounds, beyond the Community Gardens. A wide variety of fruit trees (including some heritage varieties) were provided free of charge via Stony Stratford Town Council as part of the Forestry Commission’s ‘Big Tree Plant’ scheme. This resource is used for events and as an area for relaxation, we have also established a ‘story circle’ area.
In September 2014, Mind-BLMK was approached by Daimler who wanted to get involved with the project as part of their community activities. We were very lucky that they donated a brand new polytunnel and came along for a Volunteer Day to help build it! This has been highly beneficial for all groups but it has particularly allowed Mind-BLMK and BranchOutMK to extend their activities and growing season through the winter and provide cover on rainy days.
Just when we thought the project couldn’t get any better, York House Centre established a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Partnership’ with Mercedes Benz Financial Services (MBFS) whose Head Office is based in Tongwell. To kick off the partnership in June 2016, over 50 MBFS volunteers attended a ‘Day of Caring’ and (with help from contractors Skyline Green and LandMark) installed new, non-slip paths to and through the Community Gardens, extending it to the new polytunnel and the Community Orchard beyond. This has made a huge difference to all our group members but particularly those with mobility problems – the gardens are now ACCESSIBLE to EVERYONE!
We raise funds to support the on-going costs of the project by holding an annual Coffee Morning at the Stony in Bloom Plant Sale in April, we have also received additional funding from the York House Local Giving Fund.
Groups currently taking part include Mind-BLMK, Stony in Bloom, Stony Stratford Women’s Institute, Phoenix Rising MK (a local community interest company supporting adults with learning disabilities), and BranchOutMK. With help from Santander, we have started to develop an ‘Educational Garden’ within the project for young people to get involved.
Now in our ninth growing season, the project continues to flourish and expand, and we have attained a Level 5 (Outstanding) award in the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ scheme for community gardening.
Want to get involved?
If you’re a keen gardener and are interested in getting involved with the project, please contact the York House Office for an informal, no obligations chat! 01908 563361
“Blooming Good for Health”