Gar­dens: An­nie Green-Army­tage vis­its a Nor­wich com­mu­nity green space

Set in the heart of Nor­wich along­side the In­ner Ring Road, Grapes Hill Com­mu­nity Gar­den is a spe­cial place. An­nie Green-Army­tage finds out what sets it apart

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - PHO­TOS: An­nie Green-Army­tage

Take one piece of cracked con­crete and tar­mac, fenced off, locked and aban­doned by the lo­cal coun­cil due to an­ti­so­cial ac­tiv­ity. Add a lo­cal home­owner, an or­ganic gar­dener, and a king-sized dol­lop of vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion. Mix with an enor­mous amount of en­ergy and hard work, and you have Grapes Hill Com­mu­nity Gar­den. Just walk­ing through the sturdy steel gates with their em­bed­ded heart mo­tifs takes you into a dif-er­ent place, both phys­i­cally and men­tally; with the ring road traf­fic con­stantly churn­ing just a few yards away, the re­ju­ve­nated space pro­vides a haven for peo­ple and wildlife alike.

One of the founders of the char­ity which cre­ated the gar­den is his­tory teacher Fran Elling­ton, who lived in one of the houses bor­der­ing the back of the land. "A group of us had this ini­tial idea of cre­at­ing some­thing, not just for this row of houses but for the whole area, which has a lot of so­cial hous­ing with no gar­dens, and many peo­ple with low-health and low-mo­bil­ity," she says. The idea was to cre­ate some­thing beau­ti­ful out of some­thing ugly in the cen­tre of the city, where peo­ple can come and learn to gar­den, and take part in a group ac­tiv­ity, espe­cially peo­ple who may feel quite lonely and iso­lated in city ar­eas.’

Along with Richard Bear­man, then Green coun­cil­lor for the ward and keen or­ganic gar­dener, and sev­eral other like-minded peo­ple, they formed the Grapes Hill Com­mu­nity Gar­den Group, raised ini­tial fund­ing and com­mis­sioned a first de­sign. Right from the start, though, the com­mu­nity was at the heart of the de­vel­op­ment. "We wanted lo­cal peo­ple to take own­er­ship of the space," ex­plains Fran. "So we got lo­cal artist Pa­trick Goodall to draw a pic­ture and then had a big com­mu­nity aware­ness day in Fe­bru­ary 2009 where peo­ple could say what they liked about it, what they didn’t like, and sug­gest changes."

An ar­chi­tect’s draw­ing, many ques­tion­naires, and lots of knock­ing on doors later, they had

a plan for the hard land­scap­ing. Wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble, with small raised beds to al­low ac­ces­si­ble work­ing, it also had space for chil­dren to play, adults to sit, groups to meet, and most im­por­tantly space to grow ed­i­ble crops. "Part of the ed­u­ca­tional value within a city is to teach young­sters about where their food comes from," says Fran. "And the crops are for the com­mu­nity – you can pick the fruit or herbs, as long as you leave some for oth­ers."

The ini­tial plant­ing was de­signed with sup­port from lo­cal botanist Dr Jeremy Bartlett, and is based on the prin­ci­ple of a for­est gar­den, where plant­ing oc­curs in lay­ers. The four ex­ist­ing ash trees dom­i­nate the gar­den and take up a lot of light and mois­ture, so th­ese are un­der­planted with early-ma­tur­ing crops such as red­cur­rants, which will flower and fruit be­fore the tree fo­liage fully ma­tures. Other fruit in­cludes tra­di­tional Nor­folk ap­ples, and pears which are grown as cor­dons to max­imise pro­duc­tiv­ity in this small space. Bound­ary rail­ings and a cen­tral per­gola are host to vines and berries, while salad crops, herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers, such as nas­tur­tiums, thrive amongst the or­na­men­tal plants.

Grow­ing in this gar­den has an ad­di­tional and over­ar­ch­ing pur­pose; it is all about in­clu­sion. Sen­sory plants such as soap­wort and black­cur­rant sage (which re­ally does smell like black­cur­rants when you rub the leaves) are en­joyed by lo­cal chil­dren’s and autis­tic groups who visit reg­u­larly. Hands-on or­ganic gar­den­ing work­shops are open to all, along with par­ent and child gar­den­ing ses­sions which in­tro­duce chil­dren to the idea of grow­ing in a play­ful way.

Lot­tery fund­ing has en­abled a fur­ther di­men­sion to this out­reach. Spe­cial events have at­tracted a di­verse sec­tion of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of Ar­mistice Day for older peo­ple, a series of Na­ture in the Gar­den events, and an an­nual Cel­e­bra­tion of In­ter­na­tional Cul­ture. This wel­comes every­one liv­ing in and near Nor­wich, par­tic­u­larly those who have mi­grated here for what­ever rea­son. "It’s all about in­te­gra-tion, to cre­ate a

more co­he­sive com­mu­nity," says Fran. "Once you start to lis­ten to peo­ple’s sto­ries, you can start to see some­one who you might have la­belled ‘an im­mi­grant’ as a fel­low hu­man be­ing."

This event has en­cour­aged in­volve­ment from other groups too: street food stalls from New Routes, which pro­motes cross­cul­tural in­te­gra­tion and sup­ports asy­lum seek­ers and mi­grants lo­cally; and a fund-rais­ing stall from So­ci­ety Alive, which runs a com­mu­nity cafe in Clover Hill Vil­lage Hall. Lo­cal mu­si­cians and story-tell­ers have given their time, and a yoga group even ran a free ses­sion in the first event in 2017.

This en­cap­su­lates the spirit of this gar­den: a place where lo­cal peo­ple can get to know each other, join in com­mu­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, gar­den to­gether, or just sit in peace. And you feel bet­ter for it, as Fran has found on a per­sonal level. "Some­times I’m a bit re­luc­tant on a Sun­day when I set out for the fort­nightly vol­un­teer­ing slot, but at the end of the ses­sion I’m al­ways smil­ing. I al­ways re­alise it’s ther­apy for me as well," she says with a smile. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, in to­day’s world of fear-mon­ger­ing, false news, and ego­ma­nia, Grapes Hill Com­mu­nity Gar­den is a place which cel­e­brates to­geth­er­ness and com­mon pur­pose rather than dif­fer­ence. Def­i­nitely much more than just a gar­den.

Grapes Hill Com­mu­nity Gar­den, Nor­wich is open seven days a week, from 9am - 8pm May Aug; 9am - 6pm Mar, Apr, Sep, Oct; and 9am - dusk Nov-Feb. Ad­mis­sion is free. Ac­cess is off Dere­ham Road via Gold­ing Place, Valen­tine Street and off Earl­ham Road via Paragon Place (NR2).

ABOVE: At the end of the gar­den is a small grassy area, with an as­sort­ment of tree stumps as seats. The back of the gar­den is bounded by a fig tree and a stand of bam­boo (Far­ge­sia murieliae). In the tubs are dwarf ‘Liliput’ pear trees

RIGHT: A per­former at the Cel­e­bra­tion of In­ter­na­tional Cul­ture event

RIGHT:Look­ing up the gar­den. Plants in­clude var­i­ous fruit trees, asters (michael­mas daisies), Se­dum‘Herb­st­freude’, hardy banana Musa basjoo, and grassStipa gi­gan­tica.Over­shad­ow­ing the gar­den are four ma­ture ash(Frax­i­nus ex­cel­sior)

ABOVE:The gar­den is alive with peo­ple of all ages, back­grounds and eth­nic­i­ties for the ‘Cel­e­bra­tion of In­ter­na­tional Cul­ture’ event

LEFT (TOP):A ce­ramic mo­saic of a sun­flower, de­signed and cre­ated by Peter Elling­ton, dec­o­rates part of the back wall. Two sculpted wooden hearts sit in front, a fit­ting sym­bol of the gar­den’s phi­los­o­phy

LEFT (BOT­TOM): De­tail of a heart and leaves on the metal gate at the en­trance of the gar­den

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