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24 September, 2013

The spiritual heart of the community

The Bowthorpe Heritage Garden
The Bowthorpe Heritage Garden

A team of dedicated volunteers in Bowthorpe, Norfolk has transformed an abandoned and derelict site into a 'blooming oasis'. The Bowthorpe Heritage Garden, known as The Community Garden, is now the ‘historic and spiritual heart‘ of the community, providing a unique meeting place for local Bowthorpe people to   unite in a common venture.

The project was initiated by the Bowthorpe Heritage Group, set up by local residents. Situated near to the Bowthorpe Ecumenical Church, it started in 2001.  The Group rented the land from Norwich City Council for £1 a year.

Clearing the site

Sally Simpson, a long-standing committee member of the Group, who is also active with the Initiatives of Change team in East Anglia, recalls the start of the initiative, when a half acre of disused farmland and a crumbling nineteenth century flint barn were cleared from the site.

Sally recalled the day in 2001 when the walls came tumbling down. Many were heartbroken as they wept over the dismantling of the barn.

She said: 'Teams, of all ages, salvaged what they could from the rubble and flints were stored for eight years in a garage of a local resident'. 

Adrian Judd, a committee member hard at work
Adrian Judd, a committee member hard at work
Adrian Judd, a gardener by trade and on the committee, was involved in the planning and design of the garden. There is a wild flower meadow, bog garden, log pile and orchard with Norfolk variety fruit trees. The pathways have been landscaped for wheelchair access and according to the way residents walked through the gardens to safeguard the natural habitat. Some areas have been planted to attract birds, bees and insects and funding has helped with new bird boxes. The bird boxes have been made with recycled wood in the nearby workshops and painted by the local schoolchildren. The aim is to encourage more wildlife and for birds to nest.
A volunteer effort

Everyone lends a hand
Everyone lends a hand
In 2006, in response to a public consultation, the Coverhill First School had the idea of a large butterfly-shaped flower bed as the beginning and centerpiece of the garden. This was constructed with help from the Probation Service, and the butterfly has now become the logo for the gardens.

In 2008, the garden was extended to include raised beds and hard surfaced paths and again in 2011, when a wildlife garden, orchard and water storage facility were added.

There is also a curved pergola at the entrance covered with climbing roses, and a History Wall, a brightly coloured mosaic tableau, made by the children of St Michael’s Middle School, set into arched grottos, illustrating the past to present Bowthorpe.

The History Wall stands as a historical monument, and perhaps more symbolically, a structure of real transformation for both land and community of the untold Bowthorpe history from 2,000 BC to the 21st century.

Driving force

The garden is a popular place for socialising, quiet reflection and play for all residents and ethnic groups that make up the Bowthorpe community.

Jill Wragg (right) with a colleague
Jill Wragg (right) with a colleague
Jill Wragg, a nearby resident and volunteer, tends two of the vegetable and flower beds where the garden reflects the many community interests and personalities. Jill talked passionately of the importance of educating children to recycle water: 'Water is liquid gold - we water the vegetables and plants from our recycled water system by hand. The roof of the lock up and pergola shelter has been adapted to catch rain water, collected into large water butts, as the main source for the garden.'

Carol McDonald, a committee member from the start, pointed to a memorial bench to Ian and Carol Bentley. 'Although Ian and Carol were disabled they were the life and soul of the neighbourhood. After Carol’s death, Ian became the driving force who articulated the vision to Eric Maple, the Bowthorpe Church minister at the time. Together, they campaigned and worked tirelessly to persuade the community to get involved and develop the communal and social space we see today. Sadly both Ian and Carol died before its completion.'

Resolving conflicts

An inter-generational effort
An inter-generational effort
Gardening can be a passionate occupation, with strong likes and dislikes. According to Sally: 'There can be heated differences of opinion, but underneath is a solid trust in one another. The key to conflict resolution is trust. This trust is created by a shared motivation, love for wildlife and wanting to give something beautiful to the local community, and by working hard together on a regular basis. Everyone respects all the other committee members because each has a sustained track record of hands-on voluntary work over a long period.'
Sustaining the project

Funding for insurance, new plants and tools comes from membership fees. The Group has about 40 members, some active, but most showing support simply by paying a yearly fee of £6, or £12, if they are an association, such as the Women’s Institute, a school or a church group.

The Group often receives donations of plants from well-wishers, including bulbs and seed packets from a local store. Labour costs are minimal, as the committee and other volunteers usually do whatever they can themselves.

'We often apply to donors for funding. This takes time and commitment and teamwork and the willingness to accept that sometimes some people are overstretched and cannot get involved. But the Group is greatly encouraged by a splendid local council community worker, who often spots the kind of grant we can go for, and draws the Group’s attention to it,' said Sally.

An open space

A popular meeting place
A popular meeting place
Mark Elvin, current Minister of Bowthorpe Church, observed: ‘The garden provides an open space for whatever portion of the community you come from - as a meeting place or to just be’. Mark talked of the benefits: ‘So much of our life is about doing, we lead such hectic lives and the garden is a place away from this. Many people play down what Bowthorpe is because of its past reputation, but that has changed now. Having the garden gives Bowthorpe an “identity and belonging” of we are here together.’  

Commenting on the sustainability of the project, he said:: 'So many things in our society are reliant on just a very few people, especially in the voluntary sector. You have your core, and then there are those on the fringe. So it’s about expanding the core and so the people on the fringe become part of that core.'

Ray Simpson, founding minister of the ecumenical church said: 'Bowthorpe Heritage Garden is a vision turned into reality - evidence of what can be achieved and sustained by a community that ‘grows out of people with shared roots, tasks and hopes.'

Help with Fund Raising:

The Bowthorpe Heritage Group is seeking funding for signage to enhance the educational aspect of the Garden, for example, pictures and information about the wildlife to look for in the log pile, the compost  area and the bog-garden. If you can help, please contact:

By the Sustainable Communities Team
Photos by Yee-liu Williams

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