The Golden Hill Community Garden was born out of the efforts of the Horfield and District Allotment Association, in particular a group of people who wanted to create a community allotment which any one could visit;
a place accessible to people with physical and/or mental ill health or learning difficulties; an allotment for people who didn’t want, or couldn’t get or couldn’t manage their own allotments, a place where people could be supported to learn and grow food together. Four years of fund-raising and paperwork later and the Big Lottery Fund and Green Capital gave the project the money needed to begin.
This initial funding would provide something for us, the volunteers and local community, to start from; a basic structure enabling us to develop and continue building on, with the long term aim of becoming an income-generating and therefore self-supporting, resilient food project.
Most of the site hadn’t been used for years as it was prone to be very, very boggy. It's a lovely place but it is at the bottom of a slope and the area had always collected nearly all the run-off from the heavy clay site, soil conditions familiar to most Bristol gardeners. Contractors and volunteer groups came in November 2011 and did the heavy work. They cleared the brambles and weeds, levelled the ground and built a decking area, walk way, pagoda and some of the raised beds.
The garden opened to our first volunteers on Wednesday Feb 1st 2012.
These are simply the beating heart of the project.
Lucy Mitchell, our project co-coordinator is on site on Wednesday and because of this we can provide supported, flexible, accessible volunteering to everyone/anyone who is free. On any Wednesday we are open 10-4. There are pond dipping children, retired people, people on their lunch break, everyone is welcome.
Some of our volunteers have support needs; this might include/has included head injuries, chronic pain, adults from supported housing, students with learning difficulties on work experience from the local college, people going through mental health problems etc.
There are always a range of jobs, as you would expect planting, weeding, digging and one of the really important things about us is that this work is very broad in terms of physical mobility. We have raised beds, people put chairs up to the sowing area in the poly tunnel, we will do what we can to make it possible for you to come and garden.
People don't have to stay all day or come every week which means it's accessible to people who might not, for health or other reasons, be able to commit to regular volunteering.
We share the work, share lunch and share the harvest.
Photo from the Golden Hill Community Garden website
Something new that has been started by volunteers has been our open Saturdays. This involves meeting from 11am for harvesting, weeding, watering the plants in the poly tunnel, chatting, laughing, playing a board game or whatever makes us healthy and happy. There are many people who know the garden well to help those who are new to it. As these days are run by volunteers, please phone Katja at 07804507320 if you plan to come.
We want to welcome everyone in our local community to the garden and one way we do this is through our Golden Groups – These groups rent a raised bed in the garden, that comes ready with pre-weeded compost so it is ready to sow or plant into.
Golden Groups include: Silava care adults with learning difficulties, Willow Day centre for adults with dementia, a local child minding group, a local Beaver group, Bishop Road School, and the newest group, Second Step adults with mental health issues.
We also welcome visitors and visiting groups. This might be schools/nurseries who come and pond dip; the Brownies have been a couple of times, University of the Third Age, students from the university. We've recently had some visitors from Europe.
Golden Buds is our outdoor toddler group, it runs every Tuesday and we have 20 families in the garden, doing craft, digging in our digging bed, watering the poly tunnel etc.
Golden Adventure days are our holiday play scheme days for older children, where we invite them to come and be Robin Hood, or maybe animals in the wood. This runs on Tuesdays during summer hols and two half terms. Our two years have both been very successful and we get lots of repeat bookings.
We have some very inspiring and innovative people amongst our volunteers and this has led to two large projects, both of which are aimed at making us more sustainable.
The first is the 'Tower of Power'. As part of our various attempts to stop being a bog we had a tank put in to collect the run-off which led to thinking where this water would be more useful, which led to some basic back of a fag packet drawings and on and on. We now have some photovoltaic panels installed on a wooden structure above the tank. They power a pump which takes the water to the top of the hill which is 14m higher and 300m away into two 6000 litre tanks. This water is then fed back down across the site to the troughs and taps for 200 plot holders. As this takes those peoples’ plots off the mains it's also saving money. So far, over a year, we believe it has saved us £500 off the water bill.
The second big project has been the 'Strawbale building'. This was the last major part of our funding. We hired specialists to come in and design it and play a large part in showing some of our volunteers the skills they needed. The build is made of straw, on top of simple hardcore foundations with some tyres filled with clay. The straw has then been covered in a clay/lime render. We've had open days for straw spiking and mud flinging and are now carrying out our finishing touches. This gives us a warm space in the wet and windy days which is a vital requirement for some groups to be able to come to the garden. In the future we are also considering hiring it out for small meetings, pizza parties etc.
Awards and Accolades
We've won 'Project of the Year' and 'Diversity' awards in the Green Volunteer awards 2013, we were runner up for 'Best Green Initiative in the South West' in the Spark awards, and judged Outstanding by South West in Bloom. Most recently we won 'Outstanding' in the RHS 'In Your Neighbourhood'. We have also been featured in the ‘Guardian’ for our Chutney Making, in ‘Garden Answers’ and most recently in ‘Country Living’.
One of the ways we raise money towards our self sustaining model is in putting on events. We have one for Harvest with a funny veg competition, the one in Spring has a fantastic plant sale, we've just done a bonfire and we ran wreath making and carols events in December.
Whilst these are our main events we've also done one off's like a chutney making day. We've run workshops on new allotmenting, soft fruit pruning, and making raised beds. We also had two days building our clay pizza oven, again with clay from the pond, this meant getting in the pond to dig out the clay and at various points putting lots of bare feet into a pile of clay and water to do the mixing. Very odd, but lovely soft skin afterwards.
After starting with initial lottery funding, we have been self sustaining since April 1 2014. We've been luckily enough to benefit from local various community grants such as the Bishopston gardens, and Waitrose. We also run a friends scheme that provides a regular small amount. One money maker is in the buying in of bulk compost that is then resold by the wheelbarrow.
In the future we are thinking of a shop for awkward and bulky items like bamboo poles and weeds suppressor. There are lots of things that people would prefer to get cheaply and locally that are either awkward to transport or much cheaper in bulk.
We would love you to come visit us and get involved. We are open Wednesdays 10-4 and Saturdays from 11. If this sounds like something for you, please come to our website and join the mailing list, become a friend or simply pop in and say hello. We are a garden for the local community and we rely on the support of the local community to carry on doing the work we do. For more information: