AN ALLOTMENT scheme for disabled gardeners has blossomed into a thriving community in the space of just six years.
It was back in 2006 that Carol Webb and Jim Semple decided to copy a similar project they had seen working wonders in Brighton and, having collected £30,000 in funding and enlisted the help of the construction company who helped build The Towner, they managed to install eight raised beds with full wheelchair access at the Gorringe Road allotments plot.
What started out as a small, albeit ambitious, idea has now grown into a much-treasured local resource which is used by more than 30 green-fingered gardeners with varying levels of disabilities or mobility problems.
One of them, Linda Clark, is a regular visitor and more often than not can be found ordering her ever- eager dad Peter around, telling him what to plant and where.
As Mr Clark explained to the Herald, “It is lovely to come down here and spend time together. It is very peaceful and the way it is set out means Linda can see what is going on and join in where she can.
“Where Linda lives is run by a housing trust and if we grow more than we need she takes it home and gives it to the chef and he makes a meals out of it for the other residents.
“As a community it is great. Everyone here gets on, helps each other out, shares cuttings and the things they grow and the social side is something Linda really enjoys.”
She isn’t alone. Anita Keal and Jean Gillard are sat just a spade length away, quietly tending to their own beds. Like Linda, they have both been coming to the scheme since it opened and both get an enormous amount of pleasure out of getting their hands dirty.
“I have grown all sorts,” says Anita, sat in her wheelchair, weighed down by what looks like a tonne of freshly picked rhubarb. “I have strawberries, leeks, chive, mint and lots of other things.
“Since I started coming here I have basically been basing my meals around whatever I grow. It is rewarding to think you have grown it yourself and, of course, it always tastes better.
“I had stopped gardening because I was not able to reach the ground, but these raised beds are brilliant and mean I can keep doing it, which makes a big difference to me.”
Anita and Jean agree that one of the best things about the allotments is the sense of independence it provides and the boost it can give a disabled person’s self-esteem just to head down to the plots and get stuck in, without worrying about what they can or cannot do.
For Jean, who uses a walking frame and perches herself expertly on the edge of the reinforced beds, life at Gorringe Road allotments has, apart from the odd bout of tomato blight and a recent tumble near the greenhouse, been nothing but a positive experience.
“I love coming here. A couple of hours on the allotment is like a couple of hours away from all the hustle and bustle. I have made some good friends and every month we get together for a meeting and share tips, talk about what we are going to do and catch up.
“There are some things I can’t do, but people are always happy to help. Carol, for example, helps me with some of the more difficult digging. Her and Jim are such a big help.” Even after just half an hour on the site it is obvious how special a place the allotments are. Carol explains that extra beds have now been added as well as a summerhouse. The entire area seems cocooned off from the main road it is set just back from and talking to the gardeners themselves you get an idea of how tranquil and relaxing time spent digging the beds can be.
A slice of the self-sustaining Good Life it may be, but according to Carol, the gardening club could do with a little more help.
“We have a glass green house which we are not using at the moment because someone had an accident in it. We want to replace the glass panels with acrylic ones but that will cost us a few hundreds pounds. We would be ever so grateful if people could spare some money to help us.
“And we are always on the look out for anyone who can lend a hand at the allotments with things like digging.
“If there is anyone who can help us out we would love to hear from them. It really does mean a lot to people having the allotments and the more help we get, the more people can benefit from it.”
To get in touch with Carol and the scheme, call 430970.