The abandoned walled garden within the grounds of what was Alloa House on the Mar Estate has been brought back to life through the hard work and hope invested by the local community group at Wimpy Park, who have been campaigning and fundraising since 2017.
Combined with local council and third sector support, they secured a long term-lease with a view to re-establishing a garden, as well as play areas for children and young people over a phased period. A massive boost to their efforts came in summer 2021 from the National Lottery Community Fund investment. And as winners of the Beechgrove community project ‘Mucking In’ week, which would attract all necessary trades and expertise, their vision has come to life.
Lynn Hill was brought on board as design consultant in order to bring to life the collective ideas of the community.
“The heart of a garden, in my eyes,” said Lynn, “is about those that it nourishes – the people that use it, and the wildlife it supports.”
“You could design the most professionally rigorous, horticulturally stupendous green space that would look wonderful on the cover of a magazine, but if no human life is affected, no home given to wildlife – even in the smallest of ways – then I would question if it really is a garden at all.”
“It would be easy to rest on our laurels as we see reports of a nation of gardeners rising out of the mists of the pandemic, and the upsurge of interest in gardens. We must remember, though, that not everyone has equal access to our green spaces and we must face the reality of barriers which can too easily remain.”
“Notions of inclusion are important – especially to professionals like myself. With this foundation always having played such a strong part in the ethos of my work, I was honoured to be brought on board by the Beechgrove Garden production team for a BBC TV special to mark the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Together we set out to support a new blossoming community garden project – Wimpy Park in Alloa.”
A Community Space
“Bringing nature into a community space and nurturing it can have a tremendous impact on both the individuals and the community as a whole. While the walled garden in Alloa had historically been used as a play park and community event space, over recent decades those memories and opportunities had faded. What remained was a blank canvas waiting for locals to inject their energy and ideas into. Community regeneration relies on such individuals, and there are few more powerful canvases than the growing, learning, developing, and prospering potential of a green space and garden.”
“As with any large-scale collective project, this ‘Mucking In’ week was going to be a logistical and practical effort which required lots of planning and co-ordinating. For my part, I had the lovely experience of coming on board as design consultant, taking up residence over the five days of the build, supporting and guiding the vast array of volunteers, group members, contractors, and plantspeople.”
“Lou Carberry, a local art student and volunteer, had put together the outline of a plan. Together, we quickly entered into the practicalities of how to design and build the garden: the importance of design principles; identifying appropriate structures and construction techniques; how to choose the right materials and plants; considerations for accessibility and biodiversity, as well as keeping our minds open to the future potential of the space.”
“This was to be a garden built by the community for the community. It’s all too easy to parachute in and impose your goodwill on them: to ‘do to’, rather than ‘do with’ a community. Their experiences, priorities, and unique community spirit had to come to the fore. They are experts in their communities, as they are the ones who live it. Such a sense of ownership over decision making is what fosters the sense of empowerment so key to community garden projects having successful legacies. In this way, the inclusive regeneration of Wimpy Park can act as a catalyst for its community to move forward with optimism and opportunity.”
“Community gardens provide such a holistic support network to local people, offering skills, training, learning, wellbeing, employment, relaxation, activity, play, nutrition, and companionship all in a few acres of rejuvenated ground. Their very ethos – gates open, growth from the ground up – creates safe environments for lives to improve.”
“The environment is important, and each choice had to be balanced within contexts of sustainability, carbon footprint, and biodiversity. By repurposing stone, using recycled or locally sourced materials, and employing techniques to protect tree roots for example, we aimed to tread as lightly as possible.”
“Come the end of the ‘Mucking In’ week, which had seen local council, prison, fire, rotary, horticultural, education, commercial, and private sectors come together in volunteering their time and skills, we had established a heritage orchard, a wild garden, raised beds for community group sponsorship, compost bays, a woodland walk, social seating, a sensory garden, and a spectacular amphitheatre in the centre of the park which tied its grand heritage to its future potential as an event, wellbeing, educational, and performance space.”
“What the Wimpy Park community now has is a sustainable greenspace right in the heart of where they live, created by them, for generations. It means that children who live there today will be able to spend time connecting with nature – building confidence and skills and experiencing a safe and unstructured environment in which to play, learn, and develop.”
“The sense of pride was palpable as community members dug, planting and grafting as hard as the professionals. We had barely finished when more local people began rushing in – to see the space that had been created for them, with mobility scooters zipping along the newly created pathways, previously inaccessible to them. The place was filled with beaming proud faces, ready to take on the gauntlet of nourishing and enriching their space further because, of course, no garden is ever complete, they are always evolving living beings that welcome us to embark on a journey with them.”
Lynn Hill is a garden designer, and was design consultant on the Beechgrove Garden ‘Mucking In’ special, which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer. You can see more of her work at www.lynnhillgardendesign.co.uk.