Allendale's Green Shoots of Recovery
It’s a place of growth, both for flowers, fruit and veg and for the green fingered volunteers tending to them.
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll visited a community garden created to combat loneliness and depression.
The Higher Ground Allendale organic garden is sown on a disused field close to Allendale Primary School and market place, in the North Pennines village.
Fruit and vegetables grown in the garden are sold locally and the money raised is reinvested in the Higher Ground project.
It also provides a place for people to reconnect with nature, themselves and each other.
Mayor Driscoll met the team who created the garden and who provide training and support to the Higher Ground volunteers.
He said: “The community has come together here to own and develop this piece of land to create an economically, environmentally sustainable garden.
“They’re growing food here and selling some of it to local cafes, which shortens supply chains and gives it a little bit on financial sustainability.
“But in particular, it is about social sustainability. Its purpose is to support those with mental health problems.
“It offers the ability to come and garden and to do that as a form of therapy for some people either as rehabilitation or prevention.
“It is also for people who are recovering from or undergoing cancer treatment.
“It’s a wonderful place.”
The North of Tyne Mayor has spoken of the need to create a more caring, inclusive society and to destigmatise issues surrounding mental health.
Higher Ground gardener Sam Coulson started the garden with his partner Jane Pryde.
He said: “The idea grew from my own experience of mental illness and how beneficial to me gardening was.
“The garden is available to anybody within the area the local GP’s surgery covers – the Allen Valleys and as far north as Hexham and Haltwhistle is the west.
“We’re working with the mental health teams in Hexham also to get their service users here too.
“We think just being outside, being able to speak to each other in a quite informal way as they work side by side will help people form friendships and will create an environment where people may be more able to talk about their issues.
“The main problem around here is social isolation with it being such a rural area, so our idea is to get people in from the farming community and bring them together.”
As part of the project, a derelict temporary classroom for Allendale Primary School was turned into a community hub.
The Medway Building, which is part of the garden, now features an open plan space for group activities, niches for private conversations and a comfy chill out zone for when it’s raining.
It also offers a small library and kitchen facilities which are used for the Coffee Den drop-ins on Thursday morning, which are open for everyone.
Higher Ground Allendale project manager Jane Pryde said: “The big idea is to get people doing something outdoors, with their hands in the soil, to experience the joy of growing stuff.
“It’s proven to be outside gardening, nature and the outdoors is good for your mental health.
“This used to be derelict, unused land.
“Nothing was happening with it and I think the community is genuinely delighted that something is happening with it now.
“The building was just rotten, the field was just a bog. People are really chuffed that it is being used.
“There’s even a footpath through it now which there never was before, so people walk through it with their dogs every day and stop and have a chat.
“It has got a really nice feel about it.”
Higher Ground celebrated its first year on the site on June 25 with a summer garden party featuring food and drink, crafts and snail racing in the garden and Medway Building.
The Higher Ground team run workshops and training courses throughout the year.
Jane said: “It’s been a lot of hard work but we’re really pleased that we’re able to provide veg for the community and we feel really pleased about how far it’s come in such a short period of time.
“We hope it will improve the general health of the entire community.”
To find out more about the Higher Ground Allendale project or to get involved, visit http://www.higher-ground.org.uk/#work