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Gardening club stays busy during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 11:09 03 September 2020

Thanks to some reclaimed old tiles and units, the club now have a new outdoor kitchen. Picture: Mary Yiannoullou

Thanks to some reclaimed old tiles and units, the club now have a new outdoor kitchen. Picture: Mary Yiannoullou

Mary Yiannoullou

With the loss of all financial support to the pandemic, Enjoy Brentwood More looks at how a Brentwood gardening club has been keeping themselves busy through lockdown.

The club produce honey from their own bee hives, which has proven popular. Picture: Mary YiannoullouThe club produce honey from their own bee hives, which has proven popular. Picture: Mary Yiannoullou

The Gates Club is a Brentwood based horticultural charity for adults with learning difficulties and since 2009, the club has revamped and reinvigorated the old derelict Brentwood Borough plant nursery at the end of London Road Cemetery into beds, greenhouses and a sensory woodland walk.

The founders recycled, reused, begged, borrowed and fundraised to start the project in order to give those with learning difficulties a safe space to socialise, be creative and work together. The project became self-sufficient, relying on fundraising and funding bids to continue.

Over the last few months, like many organisations, it has been functioning on a skeleton staff in the absence of revenue, cancelling all social events and fundraising the year including plant and produce sales, garden open days, excursions and music events.

Project leader Mary Yiannoullou said: “The change to routine hit everyone. Several of our clients suffered a little more with restricted social contact and reduced activity but we all stayed in contact via email, phone and twice weekly group Zoom calls.”

The club provides a safe space for adults with learning difficulties. Picture: Mary YiannoullouThe club provides a safe space for adults with learning difficulties. Picture: Mary Yiannoullou

Through Zoom calls the volunteers still got a chance to socialise as a group, participate in ongoing lessons, art and craft activities, quiz nights, dressing up competitions, and a regular Friday evening ‘virtual pub nights’. I

“It has highlighted just how important the social aspect to our project is to individuals. It really is all about the people and relationships, and The Gates and the activities offered are merely a means to nurture this,” explains Mary.

Adapting to the new challenges, after the restrictions eased a little, the club started a plant delivery service and has been selling produce from the gardens, including their own honey which locals say has gone down a treat.

The Gates gardening club have kept themselves busy with a building project. Picture: Mary YiannoullouThe Gates gardening club have kept themselves busy with a building project. Picture: Mary Yiannoullou

In addition to looking after the bees and plants, the club has started a new building project. Mary said: “For the last year we have been fundraising for the conversion of our old workshop and reception into a shiny new classroom/tearoom.

“The first phase of the build focussed on creating new storage and social facilities.

“The revamp of the tea hut started with the recycling of old fence panels for the exterior cladding and a kitchen which was destined for the skip!”

Next was a new grape vine canopy over a purpose built counter for the tea hut. Both the roof and counter were created from reclaimed wood and recycled pallets.

Staff and volunteers have now all been welcomed back on the gardens after many months away, and now more than ever, can appreciate the beneficial effects of the unique project and join in the building project.

“Everyone was thrilled to be back. I announced our return date on a Zoom meeting and it was met with cheers, applause and whooping! Gardening has long been associated with improved health and wellbeing,” says Mary, “and as dreadful as this Covid-19 experience is, it has allowed many to reconnect and fully appreciate the numerous benefits of such an activity - whatever your age or disability, gardening is wonderfully adaptable and accessible.

“There is nothing more rewarding than working together to plan, create plant, harvest and enjoy the fruits of a collaborative effort.”

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