Borough group turning allotments into community garden

The not-for-profit organisation is transforming an overgrown site in a borough park into a tranquil wellbeing outdoor space.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 4:45 am
Jo Williams and Shelley Guest in the community garden
Jo Williams and Shelley Guest in the community garden

Communitea Spaces is a community interest company (CIC) which has been founded by Jo Williams and Shelley Guest, who runs the Caffeina Cafe in Pennington Hall Park in Leigh.

The duo have begun work to turn the neglected plots at the popular green space into Grow Your Mind, a tranquil haven which will be open to the community and also provide fresh produce for local businesses such as the cafe.

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Shelley Guest and Jo Williams in the community garden

She then found out that there were allotments, albeit ones in need of a bit of TLC, in the park and after discussions with Shelley the idea for Grow Your Mind was born.

Now the CIC has officially taken over the site following several months of meetings and conversations with Wigan Council.

Jo, who lives in Leigh, said: “I visited the cafe last year after becoming obsessed with gardening. During the first lockdown I was a learning mentor at the school I used to work at and we embarked on growing things.

“My little backyard became full of pots and that set me off gardening.

“I got to the cafe and talked about the allotments and Shelley pointed to where it was. It had been left to go to rack and ruin. It was overgrown, there were trees on one of the plots. That was when the idea came to me to do something with it.

“We got permission to start working on it in mid-January so I’ve been in there quite a lot digging. We also got someone in to flatten it with a digger.

“There’s a lot of work to do and it’s a long process but we are getting there. We’re in a better position now the council has said we can have it.”

Jo says the converted allotment can play a significant role in the life of the local community by bringing people to the park and also providing fresh, locally-grown fruit and veg.

She said: “The aim ultimately is to provide ingredients for the cafe. There are already raised beds planted with stuff I’ve grown at home.

“The allotment can also help people’s mental health by getting them outside and giving them experience and skills.

“We can do classes teaching people how to grow things and cook with fresh ingredients so they are learning about being sustainable and where their food comes from.

“We see it as a place where there is going to be lots of different activities on offer for the public to come and enjoy.”

Jo says the community has already generously supported the new garden, with supermarkets giving vouchers for compost, local businesses donating seeds and a shed and a bench being given to the project.

Jo says her work in the garden has also attracted plenty of interest from curious visitors to the park.

The town hall has spoken of its delight that the CIC is taking on the former allotments.

Phil Haslam, strategic assets manager at Wigan Council, said: “For a long time, we have worked in partnership with our communities to maintain vibrant public spaces and encourage inclusion.

“The plans for the allotment will be a fantastic addition to the services she provides in the tea room, will increase community volunteering opportunities and will complement the other excellent facilities in the park.

“We look forward to seeing these exciting plans unfold.”

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