Sunday, 18 September 2011

An Incredible Inspiration

Today Emma and I had a drive over to Whitaker Park in Rawtenstall and met Paul, the driving force behind Incredible Edible Rossendale.  We have been interested in the rise of Incredible Edible initiatives for some time and have been inspired by the way it has grown into the runaway success that it has become today. With an interest in learning more about getting such a scheme accepted, supported and eventually put into action, we arranged to meet Paul to see how things are going on the community beds in Whittaker Park and to chat about his experiences so far.

As we walked through the gates and into the park we were struck by the well tended gardens in front of the 19th century house built by the Hardman family which overlooked their woollen mill at that time at New Hall Hey.  The house and grounds were later bought by Richard Whitaker with the house opened as a museum in 1902.  Long established trees shade well kept lawns which present flower beds that, although beyond their peak splendor at this time of year, are a testament to those managing the park.  We followed the winding road up towards the museum heading for the community gardens which are found to the right of it. 

There we found Paul busy in the beds and after exchanging greetings were kindly shown around.  The garden currently comprises a Victorian Herb garden to the far left with a bench for anyone wanting to take the weight off.  The centre space is planted with various edibles, a few picnic benches and the area to the right has a series of raised beds and planters containing various herbs and vegetables.  The layout makes good use of space with blackberry canes growing up the sun loving back wall, which also supports plenty of strawberries in planters and a mixture of fruit trees sit amongst the beds.  

It was soon apparent that Paul has worked very hard to promote this initiative and seems to share our enthusiasm for raising community spirit through community initiatives such as this.  A supportive local authority have provided more than just the beds currently in use in the park.  They have improved paths, relaid paving and continue to look to offer other spaces with potential for the scheme.  The combination of a supportive council and Pauls drive has really paid off and with more options on the cards, the future for Incredible Edible Rossendale looks set to grow.  

Whilst we were chatting to Paul you could see the interest in those walking by.  Later a young family walked by and asked about what was growing, so I busied myself with a bit of weeding whilst Paul explained the concept to them.  They left a short time later with a handful of herbs and hopefully that's a few more community gardeners willing to enjoy a few edible rewards for a few minutes weeding or planting from time to time when they are out for a walk.

As tends to happen, time with those with which you share an interest is soon spent and in no time at all we seemed to be saying our goodbyes.  But Emma and I were grateful that Paul had taken time away from his family to spend some of his Sunday with us and hope to keep in touch.  We then walked back to our car (I now know you can park next to the museum!) with some new ideas and plenty of inspiration, which was when I realized - I hadn't taken any pictures!  So we both headed back to the gardens whilst the sun was breaking through and I was about to get some shots of the beds when a lady came by walking her dog.  

We smiled and said our hellos and then she asked us about the beds.  What was growing, what was ready to eat, how to tell when the cabbages are ready, who does the gardening etc.  We explained that they were community gardens and that she was free to help out planting and weeding in return for taking some produce.  We chatted for a good while about strawberries, kohlrabi, courgettes and fennel. We learned that there used to be peacocks kept where the beds are now and threw a few more weeds in the compost bin.  Eventually we said our goodbyes, both sides a little happier for the unplanned encounter and hopefully Incredible Edible has another community gardener now - especially as she walks by 4 times a day!

I didn't get my pictures though in the end, or at least nothing worth using here, which had been my intention.  Instead though I got a fantastic insight into the positive value of community initiatives such as this.  The mutually beneficial collaboration between an enthusiastic group, a supportive local authority and local businesses is inspiring.  Each side adds something to the scheme and all benefit from the positive association of active participation. But the real winner, it would seem to me, is the community.  

People of all ages and abilities are able to take part on their own terms and learn from those they bump into while they are at it.  Some will spend an afternoon and chat, others ten minutes weeding with the dog and some will have a place to plant spare seedlings & cuttings.  Various options become available when a community has such an asset.  I think the tale of the Whitaker Park blackberries just about sums up the spirit of it all.

A lady got on a bus at Waterfoot and traveled to Rawtenstall (I guess 2-3 miles) before making her way up to the Incredible Edible beds at Whitaker Park.  She brought with her a number of blackberry canes and a garden fork.  Despite her rheumatism, this lady went on to plant a row of blackberry canes along the back wall of the beds.  Those canes will provide fruits for many years and should go on to propagate countless new plants in years to come.  

No one can tell what the future holds, but maybe someone will take a battery drill and some wire and fix something on the wall to train the canes along or perhaps a local business will donate a trellis system.  We can't know for sure, but I can say that lady has improved that community garden by her efforts, that she will continue to have a positive effect for a long time to come and that her efforts will hopefully be the motivation for someone elses input.  She certainly inspired me!

Thanks again for taking the time out to meet us Paul, it was a good morning.

Mark & Emma

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