The Kintsugi Garden has been on quite a journey. Whilst the garden is just one of The Kintsugi Project's ventures, the garden is where our story really started...
I've always loved gardening myself, and have been tinkering away in my own allotment for years. I also love visiting gardens but with my own son having a disability, I found it frustrating that in many of gardens we would visit, we would have to constantly risk assess whether the terrain was right for him - and it stopped us being able to enjoy or even visit some places. It didn't seem right that many people who have a disability were not able to get involved in their own gardening because of these issues, and so an idea formed in my mind. Would it be possible to create a garden that was truly accessible to everyone, one that would not only offer a space to learn about and enjoy gardening, but also provide accessible space to just be together with others to enjoy the natural benefits of gardening?
I figured it was worth a shot. So in 2018, I set up The Paradise Project which started off as a one man crusade to find space and funding. Whilst on that crusade I was quickly introduced to Steve Bailey and Bronwen Hewitt, with their wealth of experience in the charity sector and the more we talked, the more possibilities opened up and before we knew it, we had a bigger shared vision to create many amazing community spaces and experiences with people with disabilities at the heart. We realised we wanted to do more than just one garden, and The Kintsugi Project CIC was officially born.
But first things first, the garden was our spark so we got busy. In October, in discussions with Plymouth City Council, they suggested we looked at the Community Garden site on Knowle Avenue Allotments, Keyham as a possible site. My son Lewys and I went along to take a look.
Immediately we could see it had potential, with its own carpark, reasonably good size growing area and this was the clincher… its own community cabin, which came in the form of an old site office, fashioned from a storage container. Our vision for the garden had expanded and having somewhere on site that we could also utilise for other community activities like shared cooking, mental health groups, and even radio and podcast making seemed like the golden ticket. We took the leap and secured the plot for Kintsugi... but now the real work started.
We had to find the funding needed to transform the site, as the plot itself was level but the path leading up to it is sloped and not very accessible. We decided to take out a large mound of earth separating the car park and the site to allow for better disabled access by car, and of course the cabin needed to be made accessible and habitable.
At the end of 2018, we started to apply for funding and this was probably one of the hardest things I had to achieve - grant applications are no mean feat and writing them can be a full time job. In the end it took us nearly a whole year to attain funding, but during that time we were proactive and were helped massively by Royal Navy volunteers to help maintain the site and undertake minor jobs that were affordable at the time.
During the autumn of 2019, Lewys and I drove around the county visiting building merchants, explaining our vision and our plans and asking for help to get there. We had a positive response from Jewson, who generously gave us some unwanted railway sleepers and composite decking wood, which along with other companies that offered us with cost price materials and machinery, helped us get started.
Toward the end of 2019, our major funding trust indicated that funding would be possible, but we would need to obtain Planning Consent from Plymouth City Council. The Council were amazing with the support they gave us and as well advising us how to complete the paperwork, they even advised us how to a percolation test as the planning people were concerned that changing the grassy area to a hard-core wheelchair friendly area may cause water drain off issues. We had to dig 3 holes and measure how long it took for water to drain off once filled. The planning department were quite impressed because I videoed the experiment.
Eventually, everything was approved and by Christmas 2019 we had the planning consent we needed. In February 2020, the North Yard Trust officially agreed to award us a grant and we had the green light. We got started immediately, sourcing volunteers for more regular work and speaking to the builders merchants about ordering machinery and materials.
Andrew Peters and his son Tommy are both in the British Army and have building skills through being in the Royal Engineers and here they fashioned our railway sleepers into a nice square raised bed. The following week Jewson were delivering everything I ordered to get us started and it felt amazing to see our vision begin to come to life.
By March, we really got cracking. Myself, Kevin Sproston and my retired brother-in-law, Paul Hoskin started by digging out the bank that separated the car-park from the garden, for the car port and space at the end for a bespoke disabled toilet. We also scraped up the turf in the garden area to lay down hard-core in its place. By the 21st March we had laid in place raised beds, pathway edges to hold in the hard-core and had started to compact 24 tonne of hard-core.
Then.... Covid-19 happened. Martyn (pictured in blue), was due to join HMS Scott, but due to the upcoming crisis, Kevin and all other naval volunteers were pulled from the project in anticipation they would be needed and if not they had to limit their travel. Paul our retired civil engineer had not long turned 70 which made him in the at risk category and he needed to stay home. We were all heartbroken, all our momentum had to stop dead and we had to close the gates up for lockdown.
The site remained in lockdown through the rest of the spring and all of the summer. Many times during lockdown when the world was turning their hand to gardening and savouring their daily exercise we all thought about the garden shut away, but reassured ourselves that when we emerged from lockdown the benefits of connecting with the garden, our community and nature would be even more important.
Sadly during lockdown someone had raided the site and stole £170 worth of ground fabric. Fortunately that was all as the cabin is quite secure and a kind lady living in Keyham offered to fund its replacement which was so very kind.
As the summer wore on, with no sign of being allowed volunteers back any time soon, I took it upon myself to see how far I could get alone. So during July I decided to build garden decking adjoin the cabin, to later adjoin a wheelchair ramp. Whilst I was pleased with my work, many hands do make light work and I was blessed to be gifted Kevin back for a week, and Martyn was now on leave, so he helped me for a week to finish the main part of that construction. We're not where we thought we would be at this time of year and have some drain on the funds we had been given, due to having to re-hire machinery, plus the Covid crisis has had an effect on availability and prices of materials - but thanks to the generosity of our local suppliers, volunteers and funders - we are still standing and have made some good headway to getting the garden ship shape.
Now we find ourselves heading into Autumn 2020 with the world re-opening for business and so we are looking to gear up again. We need gardeners or garden labourers. Despite the project still being in a state of build there is much need for weeding, pruning and strimming so please do get in touch if you are feeling green fingered and want to give us a hand.
We need to complete the ramp and decking. Also we need to complete a pitched roof for the cabin and get it clad. The cabin also needs uPVC double French doors to be fitted. With all these jobs we had skilled people lined up to help – however the Covid crisis has made it difficult to find when they are next available, so we are reaching out again to skilled and unskilled labourers and tradespeople to help us with these tasks and some other light building work. If you think you can help us - please get in touch. I’m available most daytimes to meet anyone at the site to discuss how they can help and show you around, just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you've enjoyed hearing a bit about the story of our garden so far - let us know your thoughts by commenting below, emailing, or reaching out on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter - we'd love to hear from you.