In September of 2007 when The Allotment Federation very kindly donated 1200sq meters of their land to the GZ group for a minimum of 25 years, for people with special needs to create and maintain their own garden, we realized it was an enormous task and that many a sleepless night lay before us, in order to turn this derelict area into a place where any one is welcome.
The plan was to have a garden where anyone regardless of age or disability could go and enjoy themselves in a safe and secure environment. Make friends, learn new things and above all gain confidence and enjoy life. A place where there is no discrimination and is open to all.
Before the actual hard work started in February 2008 there were many days of phone calls, meetings and evenings of planning, drawing and glasses of wine to make sure there was a need for such a place ,as we didn’t want to apply for any funding that could have been used elsewhere. We found there was a need.
The task to start and clear the ground was horrendous and without the help of The boys from Joseph Priestley college, a group from the University and people from business in the community, I think we would have still been clearing the ground today. The stuff we found and had to shift was unbelievable. We filled 3 skips with utter junk initially and a further 6 skips during the creation of the garden.
Once the ground was reasonably clear, we then had to start looking around for funders and sponsors. With this we were extremely fortunate. People were so generous and eager to help. Our projected targets for the garden were broken down into 4 phases. The 1st phase we expected to take 3 years to complete and the overall completion phase, maybe up to 10 years. But with the help from all these wonderful people we have managed to get all the funding we need for our project in just 2 years. How fantastic is that?
While we were raising the money we still had a lot of work to do on the garden, and as the user groups and individuals began to join us, the fun and the hard work started. We had tons of help from various businesses who did work days with us and brought GZ lots of goodies. So, in between showers of rain, gale force winds and semi boiling sun shine, we carried on regardless. The enthusiasm and laughter that went on in those days would have made us lots money, if we could have bottled it. We made lots of nice friends, learned how to do all sorts of different things, drank gallons of tea and pop and ate more cakes than Sainsbury’s could sell in a week. Things are still the same now and when we go home at the end of the day we look like we have just come down someone’s chimney, but wouldn’t change a thing.
Progress to date.
The Growing Zone has a wild life garden, with bird boxes, bat boxes, hedgehog houses and information boards showing birds, insects and butterflies. The Wild life area has a picnic table and seating for the disabled along with a secure dip pond and a hide. Where we spend many hours watching the birds and insects A tree nursery is in place where the garden users learn about the importance of trees in our environment. We also grow trees to be distributed into the community. This part of the garden is in use daily and is locked up at night for safety.
Wooden items around the garden have been made by our friends at the Osmandthorpe resource centre. These items are fancy fencing, two potting tables which have been specially designed and made for wheelchair users, a wonderful gazebo and much more. There are binoculars and cameras so the wild life can be watched safely from a distance.
GZ has a mini Africa which shows various animals from Africa and a water hole. Including the odd Polar bear and Penguin, but what the heck. We have an orchard full of fruit trees which have strategically placed, so when they have grown a bit more we can place the more profoundly disabled youngsters on the grass under the trees and they can watch Mr. Bumble just like anyone else. A picnic area is in place and we have a barbeque that was made and donated by a kind local. A large sensory bed to encourage all the senses, a soft fruits area, strawberry patch and lots of herbs, are now established. We also have cold frames, and a clear fronted wormery that has been made by one of our ‘worm expert’ plot holders. The kids luv this and we have to keep our eyes on them as they tend to give away all their lunch to the lucky worms.
We now have all the tools we need, along with 2 secure tool sheds and a splendid poly tunnel which houses our hand made scarecrows, potting tables and large stocks for the warm weather fun days. To enable our more immobile users around the garden we have a wheel chair a mobility scooter and other walking aids that have been donated by our very generous sponsors . The solid ground with tactile paving, and our much needed access and turning point for mini buses and emergency vehicles is now in place . The area for youngsters with major learning disabilities has been created. This shows the youngsters what to avoid in any home/garden that they may visit. The items in this area have been made larger than life to have a better impact on young minds. These items have all been made by the youngsters from Brigshaw College Kippax.
The whole of the garden will eventually run on a traffic light system, where all the danger area’s will have a red sign. We hope this will help the people with profound learning disabilities to be more aware of danger items and danger areas when areas when they are out and about on the roads. An activity/information Centre which caters for wheelchair users has been put in place where persons can go in the winter time to do and make things for and around the garden, soils, paint plant pots, do mosaics, the choice is endless. There is also a library in there and a gallery of all the photographs and drawings our users have done. Now we have electricity on the garden this small centre will enable us to show some educational as well as fun films on wet days. Electricity has also enabled us to have safety equipment, lighting, heating, an alarm system and the all important kitchen where light lunches can be made.
We are very fortunate to now have a craft person on board who teaches garden crafts and Pyrography 2 days a week. We also do photography and IT when it is needed as we have secured a young man who has kindly volunteered his services. We now have laptops, cameras and microscopes which means we can now open up many more interesting activities for our service users.
We are as environmentally friendly as possible. We try and recycle everything. The left over food goes in the wormery. The rubbish is composted. The yogurt, butter dishes, toilet rolls etc. are all re - used. Not only does this help the environment but it also helps our users to save money in their own homes..
The wheel chair friendly Comfort Zone which is a large log cabin is in place. This cabin houses a sensory comfort sitting area with mobiles, chimes and touchy feely items. It has a toilet with disabled facilities. There is a hoist and a changing bed alongside the toilet and washing facilities for the more profoundly disabled.
We have youngsters from the local community and some elderly persons who come and assist the user groups when ever they are able. Every one is welcome on the site, if they wish to assist in any way. This way the project can involve all persons in the community as well as the disadvantaged. It is nice to sustain a good mix of persons on the site as this helps our users to mix, make new friends and gain confidence. The Growing Zone does not discriminate in any way regardless of age, race or disability.
We have had lots of supplies donated by local businesses and individuals. We have some wonderful sponsors from large corporate companies who do work days for us and donate much needed money. This has been terrific for us. We are eternally grateful.
The garden is now busy most days weather permitting, with our users and volunteers who come not only from the local area but from all over the city. We all have heaps of fun every time we go to GZ. We have been very busy this year but it is not all work. We have a real bunch of characters there: - volunteers and helpers who bounce off each other, laugh, joke, love life and will have a bash at anything. When it’s time to go home we are all shattered but don’t want to go. When I get home after a day with everyone, my head is buzzing with the laughter, the things that were said, the things that were done and the tricks that were played.
As GZ is growing by the day, a lot more interest is being shown in the activities we do, from various groups of different age groups and different abilities. This prompted us to expand a little more and try and go in a different direction.
During the Summer of 2012 we received a grant of £1000.00 from Comic Relief. This allowed us to have a summer club for the youngsters each day and take placements on a pilot scheme. It worked so well that Comic Relief has granted us funding to allow us to take placements at GZ 3 days a week for 2 years along with sessional craft workers. The youngsters who come from the local colleges will not only work on the garden but learn many other life skills, such as building, woodwork and general maintenance.. We also have splendid support from Zurich Cares who for the next 3 years are funding us to allow us to stay open.
As time is going on we find that all our groups get on so well together, regardless of their disability that we jump in our mini buses and take ourselves off to do other things and go to nice places, as well as having numerous parties and events at GZ. We are now net working with schools and helping other groups to do similar things in other areas across West Yorkshire. We also help the in bloom groups around the area. We are very nearly self sufficient, as we grow and sell all our fruit flowers and veg. and we have some fantastic individuals who make donations to help us pay our bills. We also do our own calendar to raise funds. Doing this is quite funny and traumatic as we are all better with spades than technology.
The Growing Zone has an active committee of volunteer members who come from all walks of life and between us we now have the experience and knowledge our group requires to continue with the help and support of our very special friends.
At this point I would like to pay tribute to our user groups, sponsors, volunteers and committee members, because without the help of these wonderful people we could not have come this far in such a short time and we would not have had such a special place for us all to go to whenever we wish. GZ is not only our garden, it has now become our haven and we are eternally grateful to everyone who has helped us in any way.
If you would like to help or work with us in some way we would be absolutely delighted.
NOT ONLY WILL PLANTS GROW IN THE GROWING ZONE BUT ALSO CONFIDENCE, INTELLECT AND FRIENDSHIPS.