Scots gardening projects blooming thanks to seed money

Volunteers work on the Polmadie Plots Community Allotments and Market Garden at Prospecthill Circus, Toryglen, Glasgow. Picture: RHS
Volunteers work on the Polmadie Plots Community Allotments and Market Garden at Prospecthill Circus, Toryglen, Glasgow. Picture: RHS
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A NEW funding scheme is helping gardening projects in Scotland to blossom, finds Rosemary Free

When a community group in Fraserburgh heard it had been awarded £2,500 from the Royal Horticultural Society, it meant it could finally kickstart a gardening project that had been stuck in limbo.

Fraserburgh Development Trust had plans to create a community garden on a plot of vacant land for use by local groups and schools.

However, having successfully applied for change of use on the land, the group hadn’t been able to move forward due to a lack of funding.

It is one of four flagship projects in Scotland to be awarded grants of up to £6,300 under a three-year scheme by the world’s leading gardening charity. The Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in Glasgow won the biggest award, while the Toryglen Community Base, also in Glasgow, was given £5,010 and the Penicuik Community Development Trust was awarded £1,800.

The four projects will also be given hands-on mentoring and practical advice from RHS Scotland’s team Angela Smith and Mairi Coxon.

A further eight groups have been awarded up to £500 and ongoing support, while four other projects were given money in partnership with BBC2’s Beechgrove Garden.

In total, the RHS will award £100,000 to schools and community groups over the next three years including the £30,000 awarded this year.

“It was a great cash boost for Scotland,” says Angela Smith, RHS development officer covering the west of Scotland. “There were over 100 applications. That shows clearly how much is going on in Scotland. It definitely shows there’s a real need.”

She said as well as the financial support provided by the RHS, the groups would benefit from the practical advice offered by her and her colleague, Mairi Coxon.

“We’re passing on our skills and our knowledge. It’s good because we know the growing conditions in Scotland, we know what help is needed. Mentoring and supporting them is not always about horticulture. It’s about networking, it’s about putting them in touch with other funding opportunities, it’s about supplies. There are lots of other things involved as well. It’s keeping a balance.”

Community health development officer at the Fraserburgh project, Kirstie Swales, said both the financial and mentoring support were vital.

“It’s been really good to get that support. They’re not just offering us financial support but they’re offering us training and advice which is what we really need because the group we have here is a completely different mix – there are people to do with funding, there are people to do with gardening, there are people to do with health.

“We’ve actually been stuck in limbo for a couple of months waiting for funding. We can move forward now and it’s such a perfect time. We can get stuff done by next spring.

“We’ve had to push back the date and push back the date. It never goes well doing that. Now we’ve got the money and clear guidelines on what we’re doing it’s really good. It popped up at the perfect time.”

The group is hoping the site will be used by patients from a nearby hospital, unemployed people, as well as a couple of local schools that don’t have any green space.

It will also be open to students from a school for children with learning disabilities and the local college.

“We’re hoping to get as many groups in as possible next year and have a big open day to make sure everyone knows about it,” says Swales.

“The idea of the garden is it won’t just be about gardening. We’re trying to incorporate anything to do with a healthy diet. It is all about getting healthier in the area. There’s a lot of social isolation as well so it would be good to get people out of their houses and doing something.”

The RHS award to the Penicuik Community Development Trust will go towards its work restoring the Lost Garden of Penicuik – one of Britain’s grandest fruit and vegetable gardens – to full production.

The garden, on the edge of the town, had been left unused for 50 years but is now being restored as a sustainable local food source, as well as a centre for therapeutic, social, educational and environmental use.

Convener Florance Kennedy said the money would be used to buy fruit cages and horticultural equipment. “We are at the start of a major long-term project and funding is incredibly important for the restoration and return to productivity of this Victorian masterpiece,” she said.

In Glasgow, the money awarded to the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre will be used to buy a large polytunnel greenhouse to allow local people to be involved in garden-related activities all year round. The polytunnel will be situated outside the community centre on unused land, and will be big enough to accommodate a range of activities for all ages.

Meanwhile, the newly-built Toryglen Community Base will use its cash award to turn the surrounding green space into a community garden with beds accessible for people with disabilities, spaces to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs, and a small orchard.

Ruth Evans, RHS Director of Education, Communities and Fundraising, said: “We’re delighted to be helping gardening groups in Scotland on such important and wonderful local projects that will make a substantive difference to people’s lives. In Glasgow, our funds and expertise are being used to turn a disused space into a growing area and orchard designed to serve the whole local community. An important aim of the RHS is to provide direct and meaningful support to grassroots gardeners and to have a lasting presence in communities across Scotland.”

Groups that were unsuccessful in getting funding this year are being urged to try again next year. “The number of applications shows that there’s a hunger for, and awareness of, the benefits of community gardening in Scotland,” says Evans. “This is fantastic and we want to help meet this demand. Obviously, it’s a shame we could not support every group who applied but there will be another opportunity next year, so do watch this space.”

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