The garden in Gorsebridge is located in a Respond housing estate. Respond is Ireland’s largest non-for-profit housing association. They develop housing projects with a view to creating inclusive communities based on social investment and not profit making- it’s quite refreshing to see housing being seen as a social good after all the profiteering of recent times. In the housing estate in Kilkenny, a community centre was built which was underused before 2008; that year Goresbridge Rural Development took over the centre and established a library, youth clubs and an active retirement group. One of the staff members, Colette, then set her sights on the idle garden at the back of the centre and requested funding from Kilkenny Leader Partnership to build a polytunnel. Some local people donated woodchips and manure and others volunteered to help build the polytunnel. In March 2010 funding was attained from the VEC for a gardening course and ten members of the local community signed up. Dee Sewell, a locally based organic gardening trainer, was enlisted and the course participants began their training. The group was made up of people from very diverse social backgrounds who would otherwise probably not have met each other. Gardening prowess and experience also varied considerably between the members but a supportive environment evolved where the greener fingered assisted the beginners and Dee facilitated and managed the group. Raised beds were built and a design was created for the rest of the garden around the polytunnel.
Outside of course time, the staff in the community centre, Breeda and Colette, watered and maintained the garden. When the funding ran out for the gardening course, another stream of VEC funding was sourced for another course, this time a FETAC level 3 horticulture course. Although the course was free for the members, some people didn’t appreciate the formal nature of the new course and dropped out. However an informal gathering of members on Wednesday mornings outside of the course time has also been established. It seems that people missed the social space the garden provided and wanted to meet up with their fellow gardeners in a less structured setting.
In conversation with Dee, the ever enthusiastic class tutor, she mentioned that in addition to the horticulture knowledge and social interaction, the group members were also trying foods that they hadn’t tried before. She began to bring recipes to the classes and giving the guys some cooking tips. She also felt that an awareness of how long it takes to grow food and an appreciation of seasonality had been created among the group. Many members of the group have begun to grow food in their own gardens at home and some had become grow-your-own ambassadors telling friends and family how to grow food and passing on the knowledge they’ve gained.
For Dee, some of the most rewarding things about the work were watching people develop and seeing enhanced community interaction. She felt that the fact that the space was relatively small meant that they could see what had been achieved in the garden and this helped to motivate people.
The guys are hoping to run more courses in the garden with Dee’s help; this will depend on funding opportunities, but I feel that even if the funding is not forthcoming, the participants will probably want to come along and get involved in the garden anyway. One of the members remarked during the year that the great thing about the garden was that no matter what was going on in your life or how bad your mood was the garden was a happy place to be on a Wednesday morning.
So it sounds like the members are reaping a very rich harvest in Goresbridge.