How a lockdown community garden gave a town hope

How a lockdown community garden gave a town hope

During lockdown, the first community garden inspired by the Psalm 23 Garden was created outside St Mary’s Church in Tadley, near Basingstoke. It became a symbol of hope for people across the community.

A labyrinth of wild flowers, some espaliered cherry trees, and logs to sit on became the focal point of the local community.

‘Lockdown felt like a cruel blow to our plans,’ says minister, the Revd Gill Sakakini, ‘but it’s been a complete blessing, because it’s given the garden a deeper meaning for the public.’

That meaning is hope. ‘There was a sense in the community that something was happening,’ she says. ‘When we planted it, we could barely see the seeds. But week by week things grew and there was something that people could engage with when there was very little going on.’

Now, she says, the garden has become ‘a focal point for the community’. ‘My vision and my hope is that the garden will be a real place where people can connect with the natural world, a place that roots them, a place where they step outside their normal life and find what God has to offer,’ she adds.

One of those for whom this is true is 48-year-old Julie Dollin. Shielding for many months due to health issues, Julie’s first trip outside her house was to see the garden, named 23, after the Psalm.

‘I walked round the corner of the building and saw the garden for the first time, and it overwhelmed me,’ she says. ‘I was blown away by it.

‘The garden gives me hope, a sense of well-being. Knowing I can come and sit here whenever life gets on top of me is great. It brings me closer to God.’

One of the key creators of the garden was Keith Gillings (67), a retired engineer with a passion for gardening. Used to being busy and active, the lockdown was especially hard for Keith. So, creating the 23 garden was ‘an absolute godsend’, he says.

‘It was a fantastic time to be doing this,’ he says, ‘which may sound strange. But gardening really does restore your soul. It’s a special garden to me. The bonus is that it’s being well-used.’

Anyone can use the garden at any time. But it’s already being adopted for more formal purposes. It became part of a nature trail across the town, is used for family events, prayer walks and outdoor services. There are also plans for the nearby school to use the garden.

‘Despite lockdown, we found creating this garden easy to do,’ says Gill. ‘It’s a fantastic way to connect with the community. It’s a great opportunity.’

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