Have you ever eaten something that you’ve grown yourself? The mud-ingrained fingers and the rain-soaked gardening is all worth it when you taste the sweetness of a strawberry, sweeter than any you’d buy in a shop, or the crispness of a lettuce, better by far than the limp slice of slime you’d pick off a burger.
Gardening is not only rewarding, but also is now widely acknowledged to be great for your health and wellbeing. The RHS recently released research that revealed wellbeing scores were 6.6% higher in people who garden regularly, the eager gardeners also had stress levels lower than those who did not garden.
Andy Robertson and his team at The Open Gate Community Growing Garden are keen to share the benefits of gardening with the community of Colne. Part of the Open Door Centre, the allotment is tucked away off Castle Road and is a haven of peace and quiet, despite not being too far from Colne town centre. Sessions are run by volunteers who are keen to get Colne gardening and their efforts have paid off, winter vegetables including kale, cabbages and onions pour out of the beds, just waiting to be picked and scoffed.
The fruit and vegetables are for the community and after all their hard work, it seems only right that the growers are able to cook with their crop. The team wants to ensure that the community gets all the advantages from the allotment. Rebekah, one of the team at the community garden, says: “The idea is that the people using the garden will take home the vegetables and reap the benefits.”
Growing your own can encourage people to change their diet to include more fruit and veg, especially as it’s free and available. It also reduces plastic waste, as you’re not buying the products from a supermarket – it’s win-win. Over lockdown, a lot of us have been forced into an inactive lifestyle, especially if we are working from home. A lot of the day is spent hunched over a computer and staring at screens. As well as getting us out of the house, gardening is brilliant to get us moving. “It’s exercise for people living a sedentary lifestyle, it’s quite hard is wheelbarrowing,” laughs Rebekah. But if you don’t feel up to gardening, there’s plenty of other things to get involved with.
Rebekah points to an empty area in front of the vegetable garden. “We’re going to turn all of this into a cottage sensory garden – a place for people to come and sit. People might want to come up and draw, or some might just want to look at the view.” This part of the allotment overlooks the familiar terraces of Colne, with the hills visible in the distance. It is certainly the perfect place to capture in a painting.
“Some people just like to come up and chat. One of the guys just comes up and makes furniture out of pallets. We’re trying to expand it as well to suit people who might not be interested in traditional gardening – we’re doing a houseplant event. So that could be for people who are working but could still get a lot of therapy out of house plants.” Perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time, but still want to get the wellness benefits of gardening, house plants allow people to slow down and nurture a living thing without a big commitment.
A brightly coloured shed looks over the allotment, inside little chairs are dotted about and it looks cosy amidst the drizzle. “That’s predominantly a children’s area,” Andy explains. “We’ve put fencing around it so that the children are nice and safe. It’s the Home Start group that use that. Home Start come up here each Friday morning. For a lot of the families, most of them will have nowhere near this much outside space at home, so this is great for them.” At the back of the allotment is a shipping container, kitted out as an indoor space for the volunteers and the community to use when the Lancashire weather draws in. Funded by grants from Morrisons, Asda and the National Garden awards, it acts as a sheltered spot when the Colne rain gets a little heavy. Behind the indoor space is Open Gate’s latest project.
“We applied for the Pendle Council’s climate change grant and we came up with the idea. A lot of people in Lancashire don’t have access to a garden space or an allotment space but most have a backyard. So, we have our backyard project. This is going to be our replica backyard,” Andy explains, showing me what looks very similar to an unfinished backyard complete with wooden fences. “We want to show people what you can do in your own backyard to combat climate change. It will be looking at the kind of flowers you can grow that are great for butterflies and bees, we’ll also be looking at things like saving water and growing vegetables, or even how to hide your bins. We hope to have events in the evenings so that if you work you can still attend.”
Andy and his team hope to run the climate change backyard project in April, in time for the spring growing season. However, there is still plenty to do over winter, and even if you don’t want to garden, the allotment is the perfect place to come and have a chat or simply spend some time in peace, and if you know someone who would benefit, please also feel free to refer them.
The sessions run: Thursdays 11am to 12pm or 1.30pm to 2.30pm. No need to book, just come along. Or for more information, please call Rebekah on 07502462592.