Project Report, June 2015
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 Scheme on some un-used land to the rear of York House. Ecominds is a National Lottery Grant Scheme for environmental projects that help people who have experienced mental distress 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 to allow access to raised beds and a communal area with picnic tables. A water supply appropriate for crop growing was installed and essential equipment such as new tools, wheelbarrows etc were purchased. A qualified supervisor was engaged by Mind-BLMK to manage their clients and garden plot for 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 and the thistles were replaced with neat rows of potatoes, beans, carrots and even rhubarb!
Groups taking part include the York House Youth Clubs (for children aged 8 -16 years), Stony in Bloom, Stony Stratford Women’s Institute, MacIntyre (a local charity supporting adults with learning disabilities), Montesorri Nursery, Mind-BLMK and BranchOutMK.
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.
Now well into our fifth growing season, the project continues to flourish and expand and we have attained a Level 3 (Developing) award in the RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood Scheme.
Looking to the Future….
In September 2014 the project was joined by local community interest company BranchOutMK CIC who provide Horticultural Therapy sessions for adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Branch-Out has moved their office/workshop to the top floor at York House and we have an agreement that they will provide Management of the Community Gardens Project and take responsibility for maintenance of the York House grounds. This 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 Commissions ‘Big Tree Plant’ scheme. We are hoping that this resource will be used by lots of local groups from around the town and have also established a ‘story circle’ area.
In September 2014, Mind-BLMK was approached by Daimler-Mercedes 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 is has been beneficial for all groups but it has particularly allowed Mind-BLMK and BranchOut to extend their activities and growing season through the winter and provide cover on rainy days.
Last year saw the installation of an “Edible Bed” thanks to a grant from a national scheme. This is now looking succulent, with some crops ready for harvesting and others, such as broad beans, in full flower. The produce in the Edible Bed is free to any member of the community who cares to go along and pluck. Leave some for others, though!
Our next big challenge is to improve all the paths to the Community Gardens and extend them to the new polytunnel and Community Orchard beyond. We now have lots of users with mobility problems and we want to make sure the project is ACCESSIBLE to EVERYONE. The gardening groups have already raised c£500 through Coffee Mornings at the SIB annual Plant Sale and we recently raised an additional £1900 via the LocalGiving.Com matched funding scheme. We are seeking suitable grant schemes to apply for the remainder of the money needed as the full cost will be c£20,000!
York House Community Gardens is a scheme which has developed some unused and overgrown land into allotment-style plots for use by Community Groups including people who have experienced mental distress.
What started out as a “bright idea” in 2010 to run a hosepipe and get people to dig over some unused land has, thanks to the assistance of EcoMinds, become a major community asset in Stony Stratford, with over 200 individuals from 10 community groups enjoying the benefits of joining together to raise fruit and vegetables.
In partnership with Milton Keynes Mind, we successfully bid for an Ecominds grant of £17,110 and work began in March 2011. With able project management by volunteer, Alain Welch, paths and a water source were installed, outdoor furniture was bought and installed for the communal seating area, tools were purchased and a Garden Supervisor was employed to run the weekly Milton Keynes Mind gardening session.
A wide variety of community groups (including Milton Keynes Mind, Headway MK (for people with acquired brain injuries), Women’s Institute, York House Youth Clubs, Stony in Bloom) took charge of plots and growing began in earnest in April 2011.
The pride and involvement in the project by the Mind users has been incredible with support offered to each other and lasting friendships being developed – the marked increase in confidence and sociability shown by MHS users has been lovely to see. The MHS users have a feeling of belonging to something worthwhile that is appreciated and used by the local community – they value making decisions about their plot and have a strong feeling of ownership. Due to the success of this project, Milton Keynes Mind have been asked to work with other groups to develop further projects within the city of Milton Keynes.
We were amazed at how dramatically the Community Gardens Project helped to improve the grounds of York House as a whole. By transforming and maintaining the upkeep of the most overgrown part of the grounds, it has allowed York House to concentrate time and resources on the remaining grounds – as a result the whole grounds are much more presentable and can be used by our Youth Clubs and other groups for recreation.
During the growing season we hold monthly lunchtime meetings which are open to all groups including a strong presence from MHS users. The meetings are well-attended and pleasant allowing information to be passed around the groups, discussions held and help with tasks offered.
The gardens are available to groups at all times but the regular Wednesday sessions held by the Milton Keynes Mind group give them a strong presence on the site. A major strength of this group is peer support which enables problems to be discussed openly with opinions and solutions sought from each other. The Supervisor can then enable fast solutions to problems when necessary.
Learning along the way:
Some of the groups, especially those involving children, had not appreciated how much hard work gardening can be in the available time and this had a knock-on effect with the garden’s maintenance. We addressed this issue by recruiting further groups including a toddler group and a local gardener who is keen to share his skills; we also gave some of the spare land to MHS users to produce a commercial crop.
Producing a wheelchair accessible path which is cheap is a challenge. The new path installed to the community gardens is a little too soft for wheelchairs but we plan to lay donated slabs to improve accessibility.
The dreadful weather in the 2011 season was disheartening, especially coming, as it did, during only our second growing season. Lots of groups simply could not get onto their plots due to the incessant rain and the produce was limited (although the onions were amazing!).
Outcomes and Impact
- The project now involves 9 different community groups with over 200 beneficiaries
- MK Mind have worked with 45 individuals so far with an average of 8 people attending each weekly gardening session.
- People using Milton Keynes Mind’s services were involved from the early development of the grant proposal, engagement of the Garden Supervisor and at all stages of the project resulting in a strong sense of pride and ownership.
- Our MHS users were assessed using GAD7 (anxiety measurement) and PHQ9 (depression scale). Average scores for both anxiety and depression started at severe and reduced to moderate over the course of the project. This is a significant shift in wellbeing.
Some quotes from our MHS users:-
“I like the people – like-minded and out in the open air. All as mad as each other – and I can wear dungarees!”
“I can talk about anything. It is worth getting up for. It makes me feel good to be part of something that is just for us.”
“The garden is brilliant. It’s great to see people working together and the difference to the space is fantastic.”
- 3 of the younger MHS users have returned to college/university, 4 of the MHS users plan to undergo horticultural training, others have moved on to paid full or part-time employment and local volunteering opportunities.
- Our involvement with the Royal Horticultural Society’s It’s Your Neighbourhood Scheme has encouraged us to develop the Community Gardens Project further. We were awarded ‘Developing’ level in 2011 and 2012 and have set our sights on improving that this year with the development of an ‘Edible Bed’ in the front grounds. York House, in partnership with the award-winning Stony in Bloom team, have installed a raised bed to grow herbs and vegetables for the community of Stony Stratford to help themselves to! This was launched on Saturday 13 April with a successful family planting workshop and was covered in the local newspaper.
- We have held 2 work parties with 30 people in attendance each time to clear the ‘scrub’ area at the far end of the grounds in readiness for the planting of a Community Orchard
- The gardens were included in the Stony Open Gardens weekend in June 2011 (just 3 months after growing began), the sun shone and the gardens were a hive of growing produce and activity. The response from the public was very positive with over 200 visitors.
- We held a very successful launch event in September 2011 and our new sign was unveiled including the project slogan – ‘blooming good for health…’
The gardens continue to flourish and we welcomed 2 new plotholders this season including Little Cherubs Toddler Group.
We are looking forward to opening the gardens for 2 days in June as part of the Stony Open Gardens weekend.
We have plans to extend the gardens to include a ‘Community Orchard’ and have started work clearing the scrub. We have applied for fruit trees from ‘The Big Tree Plant’.
Milton Keynes Mind were successful in their bid to receive an ‘Ecominds Supporting Change’ grant of £9785.00 in June 2012. This money is enabling them to develop a city-wide food share scheme to grow and exchange fresh produce and encourage others to grow their own food.
We were recently donated a polytunnel and are awaiting the decision of a planning application to site it on the Community Gardens. The polytunnel will be available for all groups but will mostly be used by Milton Keynes Mind to grow foods such as salad leaves for their food-share scheme.
The monthly meetings throughout the growing season allow interaction between the different groups involved with this project. Minutes are sent round to all the gardeners so those who couldn’t attend don’t miss anything. We have our own Facebook page where groups update each other on what they have been up to – communication is the key to project success!
Contact via the Ecominds team firstname.lastname@example.org