It was once a derelict piece of land in Walsall. Now transformed into Caldmore Community Garden, it is a beautiful urban oasis where all ages and cultures can come together and make friends.
Support from Walsall Housing Group (whg) and Walsall Council made it possible. What’s more, funding from People’s Health Trust using money raised through Health Lottery West Midlands means the project has been able to extend its activities, with a full programme from a toddler group to its popular Men’s Shed.
“It’s not quite your typical community garden,” says community development worker Anna Webster. “We’re not so much focused on growing things. Instead we see gardening as a way of bringing people together. We’re located in a very diverse neighbourhood, with a mix of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, South Asian and a growing number of Eastern European people, so we have to keep coming up with new ways to welcome and engage them.”
These new ways are very popular, including a women’s group, Garden Saturdays that are open to all, and a parent-toddler group that’s booming after lockdown.
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“Our weekly groups are the first project funded by money raised through The Health Lottery,” Anna explains. “They’re very successful because we use creative methods to get people together, such as developing DIY skills, gardening or learning science with families. And because it’s free of charge we’ll get people from very different communities coming together to chat.
“Our women’s group has an artist working with us to learn about Islamic tile patterns. When we announced it, we got such a mix of people interested – including women who are Muslim, Eastern European and Afro-Caribbean. We spent three-and-a-half hours together chatting, painting and drinking coffee.”
Caldmore Community Garden now has a newsletter to spread the word about its activities, and has extended its opening times to six days a week. That’s all thanks to funds from People’s Health Trust with money raised through the Health Lottery, which supports 3,200 grassroots projects throughout Great Britain – 232 of them in the West Midlands.
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“It can be a challenge to find funding to support our projects,”says Anna. “But we know our groups work, so to have the opportunity to continue what we’re doing is quite groundbreaking.
“The group from the Men’s Shed built a treehouse that’s used and loved by the local children, and this is something that’s possible because of the funding. If there’s a practical or creative focus, that really makes the group much more sustainable and people are more committed.”
Volunteer and trustee Fiona Kells helps to run the popular Garden Saturdays, which were set up to give people who are working or at school all week the chance to enjoy time in nature too. “If your initial funding runs out, it’s so disheartening for those families,” says Fiona. “We’re really grateful that we can carry on developing Garden Saturdays and the other groups for the next two years.”
“Over the past month or two we’ve been able to welcome people back into the garden,” says trustee Fiona Kells. “A couple of people with mental health issues have been signposted to us and one young man has been doing a lot of painting of our planters. I’ve seen him really open up – he regards it as his safe place now.
“I think the garden has been a real lifesaver for a lot of people. Our volunteers can come in and sit for ten minutes and they might meet others. Quite a lot of them live on their own and they haven’t got anyone to talk to at home, but they can come here and chat to other volunteers. The Health Lottery has helped us to continue doing what we’re doing.”