Community group's mission to transform Wigan garden
Springfield Supporters has taken on responsibility for the green space next to St Anne’s Church in Beech Hill and is seeking to create an area which residents can enjoy.
The church, which owns the land, has given the group its full backing to work on the land next to the Beech Hill Avenue place of worship.
The idea of revitalising the green space, which has become somewhat overgrown, came out of one of the regular community listening exercises the mutual aid group ran where Springfield Supporters members sat outside the post office and asked local residents what they would like to see in their neighbourhood.
The idea of creating more usable outdoor space for the Beech Hill and Springfield areas has been given extra urgency by the coronavirus pandemic, which means large indoor gatherings are ruled out on health grounds.
Stephen O’Brien from Springfield Supporters said: “One person suggested tidying up the garden so we could meet there socially distanced. They had wanted to bring us a piece of cake and we said there must be somewhere nice to sit and eat it.
“We had conversations in our Facebook group and people were interested in a gardening project so we got started in the community garden.
“Another woman who came to our community chats was saying she went on her daily walks and didn’t see anybody. She wanted a safe space to sit in that wasn’t too far away from her community.
“Lots of people have gifts that might be able to be used in an outdoor space. It could be a long time before we can get back together indoors safely.
“We’re thinking about creating two areas in the garden where groups of six can meet and chat and perhaps come into the garden for a bit of a walk.”
The group is also working in a way which fits with the interesting and moving history of the garden.
It was tended for some time by Rev Roger Gibbard, an Anglican vicar who ran a project there involving asylum seekers and refugees receiving assistance from the Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (Swap).
Mr O’Brien said: “We’re trying to take the garden back to the sanctuary it was created to be.”
The community garden was also dedicated several years ago to Terry Cullen, the husband of stalwart local politician Coun Phyll Cullen who died while he was consort during her mayoral year.
Springfield Supporters spoke of the importance of honouring his memory with their work in the space.
The group also said local stories have told of a couple of other bushes and trees dedicated to people, including one to Rev Gibbard, who died in 2018.
A number of long-term ideas for things which could work in the garden are also being discussed.
Springfield Supporters has currently crowd-funded around £300 for its work and hopes to apply for match-funding from Wigan Council.
The group also has the full backing of the church which owns the land.
Rev Dot Gosling, the leader of the Central Hub which includes St Anne’s Church, said: “We’re completely supporting the group’s efforts.
“The church is there for the community and if the community can help us get it back to how it used to be that is brilliant.
“I think having a community garden is right up there with how Christians are supposed to love our neighbours as ourselves.
“We love the group’s vision for the garden, are completely behind it and will be doing our best to help them. I think there should be more of this.”