Former wasteland is now garden where friendships grow

Ally Hurcikova gets to work. Picture: Jon Savage

Ally Hurcikova gets to work. Picture: Jon Savage

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The months of hard work have well and truly paid off.

Bursting with colour, a garden brimming with healthy vegetables and flowers has burst into life.

Young and old have come together to make it work and their pride is 
evident.

But this is not a quaint rural village preparing for an in-bloom contest. This is an oasis hidden amongst high density housing in Lochend.

Since it was established, it has transformed not only the landscape, but people’s lives too – providing a lifeline for those with mental or 
physical disabilities, the elderly and the isolated.

Set up by the charity Carr Gom, work first began on the Lochend Quadrant site in 2011 with the help of Community Project Worker Ally 
Hurcikova.

Originally from England, Linda Rogers, 63, has been involved in the project from the start. Now living in Leith, Linda left a large garden in the Lake District behind when she moved to Edinburgh three and half years ago.

The retired bed and breakfast owner said: “When I first moved up here, I didn’t know how I was going to be accepted, but it has been no problem and the garden has certainly helped – I’ve met so many people through the garden that I don’t think I would have in everyday life.

“We have all had or have our own problems but the garden is a place where you can just forget about that.

“It really has turned into a beautiful area and there’s been a lot of 
interest in it.

“I had a big garden when I lived in the Lake District but now that I live in Leith I only have a small garden area out the back.”

But Linda admits working in the garden has been hard.

“Sometimes it has seemed quite overwhelming. It’s been a massive learning curve for us and a lot of 
effort, but it has all been worth it.

“The ethos is everybody is welcome – it feels like a safe community and it really has brought people 
together. Everybody is equal – there’s no hierarchy.”

Littered with dumped shopping trollies, bricks and even old prams and bricks, the site was wasteland when the Lochend Community Growing Project began in August 2011. The aim was to create a beautiful and welcoming community green space in Lochend where residents could come together, learn how to grow their own food, make new friends, and feel happier and 
healthier as a result.

Guided by Ally, the community did all the landscaping, erected a polytunnel and built the raised beds. Despite the poor weather this spring, the garden has gone from strength to strength and plans are afoot to 
expand into land across the road.

Key to the project’s success is its simplicity and inclusivity.

Of the 65 raised beds in which root vegetables and flowers are nurtured each week, 13 are “outreach” for the use of clubs and organisations.

These include the SEASONS mental health support group, Marionville Court Residential care home, Link Up women’s support group and Prospect Bank Special School.

Once the garden was completed, the raised beds were allocated and a series of workshops, skillsharing sessions and courses held. Now there is a waiting list for the beds.

Youth worker and committee member Charles Maloney, 46, said: “I was looking for something to do outdoors because I love horticulture but I live in a high-rise flat.

“I’ve been involved right from the beginning and when it was first set up, it was really just a handful of people – most of whom are still involved. Now there are many more and we’re looking at expanding the project.

“The garden is hugely beneficial to the area. A lot of people feel lonely and isolated, others have addiction problems – it gives them the chance to get out and about and to focus on something positive.

“Myself, I can say it has helped me build up my confidence and self esteem and get involved with people again. It also offers me a bit of space – I’m a Christian and it’s somewhere I can go and read.

“One of the most valuable things is that people can come along, especially young people, and they can learn a new skill.

“It’s really getting big and there’s so much scope for it.”

The first year of the project was largely focused around building the space and working with the community to find their own way of using the new community green space.

With the completion of the garden in April 2012 and the election of a garden steering group in September 2012, this year the focus of the project is on deep and wide community 
involvement.

Lochend councillor Stefan Tymkewycz said the project had made an “enormous” impact.

“The transformation of this small piece of wasteland has been remarkable and to not only see the vegetables and produce that has been grown in the past few months but also the hugely positive impact it has had on the members of the garden and the involvement of the community of 
Lochend.”

In its first year, 189 people regularly used the garden, including schools and community groups.

Dot Stuart, who goes to the garden twice a week, is now on the garden’s committee.

She said: “I got a knock at the door asking if I wanted to be involved.

“I’ve got a garden, but my vegetable growing was abysmal so I went along – it was a completely bare site at first. The experience has been really helpful to me and obviously to many others.

“A lot of people are carers and can only get away for an hour or so at a time – then there’s people with learning difficulties and others who live on their own and don’t really have 
anyone to talk to.

“There’s a few youngsters who come along who don’t have a job at the moment and it really gives them some focus.

“I’m enthralled by it – we’re just really lucky to have it.”

Healthier lifestyle and social opportunities

The Lochend Community Growing Project began in late August 2011 with the aim of creating a welcoming green space where residents could come together, learn how to grow their own food, make new friends, and feel happier and healthier as a result.

And as the project got under way, a survey of the residents revealed just how much it had improved people’s lives.

Carr Gomm asked garden users when they joined the project how many people they knew in the area, a year later, everyone had met more people through attending.

Asked about their eating habits before joining the garden, compared with one year ago, 94 per cent reported that they ate more herbs, leafy greens, fresh, organic, local produce and gifts from other growers.

Organic food had previously been seen by many as too expensive.

Many of the garden members felt that the neighbourhood had lacked opportunities to bring people together, but now felt that the community was stronger, that people talked to each other more, were more supportive and that the community held more opportunities.

After one year, 88 per cent of respondents said they now did more exercise than compared to one year ago.

The garden’s 52 individual beds are looked after by 54 people, 19 of whom are council tenants.

The 13 community group beds are looked after by local groups who visit, with dedicated courses specifically for them.

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