By Mary Craner
On a prayer walk a couple of years ago, Lorraine Brown found herself in a conversation with members of Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church about their vision of converting a small field the church owned into a community garden. Interestingly, the Minister of the church had already mentioned this idea to her a year or so earlier, so she knew God was stirring this church up. Were they brave enough to move into outward-focused mission?
Yes, they were!
Following consultations with the church and community, a planning group was formed comprising both community and church members. They applied for planning permission as the field was part of a conservation area and started fundraising.
Once planning permission was granted in July 2019 the project really took off, and in September a very successful open day was held on the field. Over fifty people attended on a hot sunny day, tea and cakes were served, everyone who came was very enthusiastic, and we were excited when ten volunteers signed up to join in with creating the garden.
A generous donation from our Methodist circuit, a Methodist Insurance grant and local fundraising had already raised a total of £10,000, so work on the main structure of the garden started in October with the building of raised beds. A low wall around the communal area went in over the winter and the orchard was planted in February by some enthusiastic volunteers, undeterred by the pouring rain.
The church, Girls’ Brigade, local primary and high schools, a local centre for adults with learning difficulties and a mental health support group were all keen to enjoy the benefits of working and playing in the garden. We agreed dates for each of the groups to start dates but then COVID-19 hit, and the project had to stop for a while.
As time went on and restrictions eased, volunteers were able to start caring for the garden again, planting beds, preparing a wildflower meadow, and creating fully accessible, safe paths.
Because of the garden project, Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church was able to gather for worship once national COVID-19 restrictions began in lift. On Sunday afternoons during August and September, two of the ministers in the town shared an act of worship outside, allowing isolated church members a very welcome time of sharing in a safe outdoor space.
In time, local groups will be welcomed into the garden, and we hope that in spring 2021 we will be fully open to all. Our mission is to be a safe, accessible haven of peace and friendship where we can contribute to the health and wellbeing of local people.
The enthusiasm from our volunteers has been heart-warming. The mother of one family told us, ‘the garden has brought a fantastic feeling of community pride in what we have achieved. I am so happy my children have been part of it’, while the father of another family said, ‘my daughters and I love being outside. Attending on a Saturday morning puts us all in a great frame of mind for the rest of the day.’ A gentleman of 84 told us that he had ‘hugely enjoyed the companionship’.
What wonderful accolades!
Mary Craner, Project Co-ordinator
Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church
Deacon Lorraine Brown, Peak Park Rural Officer
This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to arthurrankcentre.org.uk/country-way for more information about how to subscribe.