Celebrating 10 years at Springhill Community Allotments
For ten years now the walled garden at Springhill has been a community led escape from the day-to-day stress and struggles of modern life. The ethos of the allotments is that of well-being, friendship and enrichment, with many local families growing up amongst it's fresh garden fayre.
Springhill's 'secret' garden
Sophie Atkinson came to Springhill as a Ranger in 2006, full of wonder and enthusiasm, with a love for the Springhill Estate which she wanted to develop, improve and more importantly share with the surrounding community and further afield.
In May 2007, after working at the property for nearly a year, Sophie finally got the chance to explore the disused Walled Garden. She was met by a tangle of weeds, dilapidated fencing and rusty machinery. Sophie cut her way through the undergrowth, delighted to discover the remains of a couple of ancient fruit trees amongst the wild overgrown jungle. Her mind was racing with anticipation at the opportunities she would uncover. It was like Christmas had come early!
Knowing that at that time the Estate Team did not have the man hours to take this project on, on top of their current work load, Sophie started to investigate the history of the walled garden and look for ways of developing this area in the future with the aim of bringing it back to life.
The Estate Team, along with their dedicated volunteers, spent time over the next two years preparing the growing space behind the wall. Old fences and machinery were removed and there was lots of spraying to try and tame the weeds. Removal of stubborn tree stumps was the hardest job, but necessary, in order to try and level the site.
At last Sophie and her colleagues could picture the future for this garden, which had been hidden for so many years. Sophie lifted her fork and started to turn over the soil along the wall. John Boyle, the gardener, got on board and levelled the site with his tractor and front bucket. Sophie was relieved and very grateful of the help.
Sowing the seed in the younger generation
Sophie wanted to start raising the interest in the local community and what better way to do this than to enlist two of the local schools, Moneymore Primary School and St. Patrick's Primary School, to take part in Springhills community growing space. Money was invested in raised beds along the wall and stand alone beds where the schools spent time planting and growing their own vegetables and herbs. Their sunflowers could have won any competition!
Baking days were held in order to try and encourage the kids to enjoy actually eating the vegetables they had produced in the allotments. Chocolate and beetroot buns were not a hit with them in the preparation stage, but when they were cooked all they could smell was the chocolate and they thought they were delicious! They turned out to be a firm favourite with the local school kids.
The schools eventually took all the knowledge they had gained and constructed their own raised gardens at their schools. They continue to include this as part of their lessons to this day.
Open land in huge demand
In February 2009, Springhill jumped onboard an initiative launched by the National Trust, to create 1000 new allotments, due to the high demand for growing spaces throughout the UK. They had estimated around 100,000 people were interested. The plan was to use agricultural land, disused kitchen gardens and any vacant land, to offer help and advice to all who wished to start growing their own vegetables, allowing the land to fulfill its potential.
The walled garden was continuing to be improved and thanks to the funding we were able to install a potting shed. Along with the shed the title for the space was born 'Springhill House Community Allotments'.
Ian, Mid Ulster's Head Ranger encouraged Sophie to gain her qualifications in tree felling and from many of the fallen trees the natural sculptures, which you see along the walks and natural play at Springhill, were constructed.
There's something missing
There was something troubling Sophie though! The need for a water supply into the garden. Her curiousity took her to visit Emmett Martin, former Head Gardener at Springhill. Emmett used to live in the gatelodge at Springhill and had vast knowledge of the estate. He informed her that yes there was indeed a tap located along the wall, but was unsure of its exact location. Sophie was so excited as she searched through the layers of ivy along and ,low and behold, she found it, turned it on and it worked! The pipe must have been well insulated by the blanket of ivy over the years, was the conclusion Emmett and Sophie came to.
Full steam ahead
Spring 2009, and Springhill's plots were pegged out, 15 plots all 12ft x 8ft.
In the days before facebook, Sophie produced a flyer which advertised the available plots, in conjunction with tv celebrity Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Landshare project which connected growers to people with land to share. These flyers were put up in the local post office and shops and within three weeks the plots all had enthusiastic new owners. Springhill's Community Allotment family had been born!
Within the first year the 'allotmenteers' had made improvements to the site. They had:
- Composting area
- Communal facilities
- Picnic table
- Summer house
- Seed swap station
- Herb garden
Thanks to funding, Sophie and Ian collected a polytunnel, which proved to be a great addition to the space.
There was also national recognition for the growing space with an article in 'The Edible Garden'. BBC Radio Ulster's Anne Marie McAleese met with Sophie and some of the families involved at Springhill's Harvest Fair and this was broadcast on 'Your Place and Mine'
Since then the allotments have grown to 27 plots, plus there's a waiting list of prospective growers keen to share in the fun.
Springhill's Community 'Allotmenteers' have provided income for the wider conservation work of the National Trust in mId Ulster, not only in rental income but also by undertaking various fundraising pursuits:
- Home-made baked goods and produce
- 'The Allotment Cookbook' is on sale in Visitor Reception, in which the allotment holders have shared their favourite allotment produce recipes
Making memories since 2009
The families and personalities have brought life back into the Walled Garden, many of their kids have grown up alongside the cabbages and peas. Asked for thoughts on the Community Allotments, what's their response?
- Fantastic opportunity for families and lasting friendships
- Promotes healthy eating and makes exercise fun
- Encourages growth of local produce
- Children grow up loving the outdoors and the wonders of nature
- Brings people together, who share knowledge and passion
- Is a much needed quiet escape from todays busy day-to-day lives
- Inspires people to become Volunteers with the National Trust
- Has produced award-winning produce
- Provides an opportunity for partnerships with other community groups
- Connects people to the past by growing flax
By 2012 the National Trust had created 1200 new growing spaces across the UK, a scheme supported by Sophie, Ian, and all the Estate Team.
Come along and join us...
.....in celebrating 10 years of Springhill's Community Allotments on Saturday 30 March, with a fun-filled day within the Walled Garden. The Estate Team and all the 'Allotmenteers' would love to meet you!