Newpark Close Community Garden, Kilkenny

This prize-winning garden in Kilkenny is a cross community programme between the Newpark Close and Hebron Park housing estates, two disadvantaged parts of the city with a traditional rivalry.

It came about when the community committee in Newpark Close applied for funding under the RAPID program for a LTI (Local Training Initiative).  A group of local men, most of whom were long-term unemployed, applied to take part in a twenty week course in Vocational Employment Skills (Level 3 Major award) which included a horticulture module.  The city council agreed to give the course participants access to a piece of land on the edge of the estate in Newpark Close which had been used as a dumping ground in the past. The land was fenced off and the guys developed a community garden from scratch with the help of their horticulture teacher.

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The group was made up of ten guys from each of the housing estates and it was agreed that the guys would work together to set up another community garden in Hebron; and for those who went on to the Level 4 award, which includes paving and landscaping modules, two more memorial gardens would be built, one on each community.

I didn’t get a chance to visit Hebron but the students and Mary and John from the resource centre showed me around the garden in Newpark Close.  The guys were weeding, harvesting carrots, brussels sprouts and parsnips, and planting peas while I was there.  For now the water from the garden is coming from the mains but attempts are being made to develop a rainwater harvesting system with the help of some local residents.  And plans are in the pipeline to get a composting system going.

The programme is designed to encourage the trainees to engage productively in their community and to increase access to training opportunities and work experience for RAPID communities.

The guys seemed to be enthusiastic about the work in the garden and took pride in the work they’d done. But when it came to sharing out the food that they’d harvested, most of the men weren’t interested.  One commented that ‘there is a chipper down the road’. Lucky for the one guy who was interested in taking home the harvest, he got to take the lot!  Mary and John later told me that when there was an abundance of veg during the summer, the guys would call over the passing residents and give them the veg that they’d grown.  It seems that the guys took a lot of pride in being able to show their friends and neighbours what they’d achieved and maybe improve their image in the eyes of the community, and were less interested in incorporating it in to their own diets.

The group is currently in the fifth week of the level 4 course; they now only have two hours of horticulture per week and are spending more time on the theory and planning work for the memorial gardens in each community.  The idea with the memorial gardens is that once they are developed, residents will be able to come and plant a tree for a lost loved one.  The trainees have also been doing clean-ups in their estates and planting flowers in the area and there definitely seems to be a new pride in the local area developing through the gardens.

Towards the end of the current course local residents interested in continuing the work with the garden will be invited to join the trainees in the garden. The guys will then pass on their horticulture knowledge, tips etc. to the residents who will then take over the maintenance of the community garden in the long-term. So not only will the residents be rid of a dumping spot on the edge of their estate, they’ll be getting back a fully developed food growing garden, and hopefully some enthusiastic young men with the knowledge and skills to help make it grow!

The Garden recently won 1st place in the “Best Community Effort” category of the Keep Kilkenny Beautiful Awards.

Thanks to Mary and the lads for the visit.  Congratulations on all the great work.

PS.   I stayed with some friends in Kilkenny city, the Shortis family.  And over a great dinner, the Dad of the house Sean, told me that he grew up in Newpark Close estate, and that when he was growing up nearly every house in the estate was growing vegetables in their back garden!

So it looks like their might be an already existing pool of experience and skills in the estate that’s just waiting to be tapped. This probably bodes well for the future of the community garden.

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