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Europe Comes to Leicestershire

Wigston Library Garden Erasmus visit b

Friday was an exciting day for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners, who hosted a group of visitors from the Erasmus Plus exchange project on a tour of therapeutic gardening sites in the county.  Garden Organic is a partner in this scheme, which brings together people with a common interest to share experiences and ideas across the continent.

Back in October, Leicestershire Master Gardeners’ Coordinator, Alison McGrath, joined Garden Organic colleagues Sally Cunningham and Sara Brown on an Erasmus exchange  visit to Slovenia, where they met people from a wide range of projects, all based around the use of the great outdoors for  therapeutic purposes.  Friday was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones from as far afield as Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia and The Czech republic.

We began the day by meeting Sam Clarke from Blaby District Council, and John Beckett, leader at A Place to Grow in Enderby, where our visitors saw a large scale and well established community growing facility, hosting a wide range of growers, many with learning needs, but others simply enjoying the opportunity to engage in shared, creative activity in a beautiful space.

A Place To Grow is a free to use sustainable Community Garden with the purpose to support positive Health and Wellbeing. This is done by encouraging people to learn new things by producing and eating healthy food, being physically active, getting involved in the community and meeting new people in a friendly, informal and safe environment.  The site is aimed at supporting and encouraging those living with or affected by a health condition to enjoy the outdoors.

Erasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Enderby aErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Enderby b

Our visitors were fascinated by the way in which this wonderful facility had been built up by local people, applying for funding and overcoming the challenge of an arson attack, to the point at which it can now sustain John’s Council funded post to coordinate and lead the site.  This was in stark contrast with the large, state funded projects we saw in Slovenia.







Our next stop was a total contrast, being a tiny community garden, behind Wigston Library, developed by local people and the LCC Adult Learning Service, with support from Leicestershire Master Gardeners.  Jayne Edwards, LCC’s Local Engagement Coordinator, was delighted to share the news that as a result of the success of this garden, her department will be introducing a new 30 week community gardening course as part of its portfolio of community courses.  The library will also be hosting a new Seed Exchange set up by Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston, at which local people will be able to drop off their surplus seed and pick up new varieties.  This will make seed freely  available for community food growers in the area and will encourage growers to make use of the free educational resources in the library’s gardening section.  Our visitors heard about the impact that the garden has had on staff in the library as well as local people who come to grow there.  The evidence of engagement was clear in a very healthy looking compost bin, full of fruit waste and tea bags from the offices as well as garden weeds and waste paper.

Erasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library dErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library bErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library f


Wigston Library Garden Erasmus visit b










Our next stop was lunch at the Salvation Army in Wigston, followed by a visit to the Kennedy House Asylum Seekers’ Garden with project leader Chris Huscroft and Master Gardeners Malcolm Brown and Alan Pittam.  When we arrived, Alan was busy helping one of the residents to barrow a delivery of compost into the new greenhouse, supplied by John Lewis, and a succession of new raised beds, which are to be planted up with potatoes.  Crops of chillies, callaloo, an exotic leafy vegetable and tomatoes as well as African kale and middle eastern herbs are also planned, while garlic and broad beans are already well established.

Although initially a little overwhelmed by the arrival of so many strangers, the resident was soon part of a laughing, chatting crowd, all trying to communicate in various levels of English and German.  This informal language exchange is one of the key objectives of the garden, set up by the Oadby and Wigston Multi-cultural Group to promote integration between this often traumatised and very vulnerable group, and local residents.  Locals have volunteered to offer free English lessons every Thursday and these lessons are reinforced as residents work alongside others in the garden.  They also benefit from cycle maintenance courses, enabling them to make good use of the cycles that have been donated to the project to address their difficulties with transport.

Kennedy House Erasmus Visit  iKennedy House Erasmus visit g






Our final stop of the day was at the Loughborough University student Landscaping and Gardening Society’s Garden (LAGS), supported by Master Gardeners Martha Worsching, Helen Burgess and Irene O’Malley.  The growers were hard at work as we arrived, planting potatoes but were happy to share their garden with the visitors.  Martha explained how the garden is particularly important for overseas students, who find in it a way to ‘put down some roots’ and feel at home.  The students work with Transition Loughborough to grow and cook their crops on the site and to spread the joy and health benefits of growing and cooking through lots of events.

Helen shared with them her work with the home-educated children’s group on this site, and with the 3 Close Tenants’ ‘Gardening Gang’ on a housing association estate in Loughborough, details of which can be found here.

The LAGS focus on sharing was apparent as members of the  group began appearing for their regular Friday afternoon gathering, bringing lots of goodies, from nuts and dried apple slices to Irene’s delicious dairy free brownies.  The kettle was put on in their capacious shed and, as the children of staff and postgraduate students ran around under the trees and explored the compost heaps, the European visitors mingled with the locals in another multi-lingual hum of conversation and the afternoon developed a party atmosphere; a fitting end to a wonderful day.

Loughborough University LAGS Erasmus Visit aLoughborough University LAGS Erasmus Visit d

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