Sewing Community Seeds in North Devon

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OPhoto of Positive Peopleur Positive People descended upon Forches Estate in Barnstaple, North Devon with vigour, humour, and good ole’ positivity – alongside a plethora of your typical garden tools ….and the sun was on our side!

In partnership with North Devon Homes (or Team NDH as they like to be known in their local area) we came with the ambitions of transforming what had once been a flourishing community garden, full of runner beans, cabbages, rhubarb, berries, Devon native apple trees and an array of herbs.

The community garden which is situated just off Forches Cross Primary School, features raised beds that were completely covered in overgrowth when our team arrived.

“This space has been managed by North Devon Homes since 2006, and in the beginning, was a thriving space as we had 30 green-fingered volunteers willing to maintain it,” says Frances Walsh, Community Involvement Manager for North Devon Homes, “But this last year it has somewhat gone into a dip and we are keen bring people outdoors and use this as a multi-functional space that can offer something for everyone”.

Over the years, Forches Estate has seen high levels of unemployment, debt and benefit dependency, alongside a level of anti-social behaviour and substance misuse.

Adam, North Devon Homes Neighbourhood Ranger says, “I work in the community daily, mainly managing estates and have been involved with the maintenance of Forches community garden for a while now.

group photo“We have several raised beds that are doing well, with a few local chaps responsible for the management of these, but over the years the space has been a favourite with local youths who like to use this space to hang out. It would be great to get it back to a usable state for the community again”.

Forches has recently been subject to extensive regeneration with investment from North Devon Homes, and anti-social behaviour is now on the decline.

Positive People and North Devon Homes strongly believe that giving old community spaces a new lease of life has the potential to empower the Forches community to take ownership of the space and would love to explore ideas on how the space could work best for its surrounding community.

Vicky Moss-Crump, Positive People Project Manager at Cosmic sees this space as the perfect go-to for many different groups within the community - younger, older, and everyone in-between.

“Our Change Coaches in North Devon will have the opportunity to bring our participants here,” says Vicky. “If someone wants to grow their own veg, or get outside and help with managing this space, we can facilitate that.

“There is also the potential for participants to develop self-employment opportunities from their love of growing their own fruit, vegetables or herbs and taking them to market and we can support people to do this through our new and exciting self-employment programme that we are rolling out across Devon”.

“This space is also right next door to Forches Cross Primary School, and we would love to see the children becoming actively involved with the garden. Learning about where our food comes from is important, and it can be a real benefit for the children educationally, and an opportunity to get an element of hands on learning. We have also had a keen interest from the school kitchen in sourcing some vegetables here, and we are actively looking to build that relationship up with the school to develop this further”.

Providing dedicated support, and community engagement in the area is paramount for Positive People moving forwards. We are equally thrilled to have use of Whiddon Valley Youth Community Centre where, in partnership with Positive People, we hope to provide digital support drop in sessions, whether that be for getting to know the basics tech wise, figuring out the Universal Credit online service and job searching, or getting CVs up-to-scratch!

“We hope to make the most of this fantastic opportunity” enthuses Avril Bankes-Fay, Devon Partnership Manager for the Positive People Project. “The sessions we run at the community centre will be focused on what the residents desire or could benefit from.

“The outside space here is amazing and after getting stuck in today at Forches community garden, we are keen to make the most of Whiddon Valley’s outside spaces and bring them back into the community, especially when the weather is so beautiful!”

Hard graft, back breaking and a job very well done!

Positive People helps anyone who is over 25 and not in work to build confidence, skills and hope for their future. It is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund.