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From scrubland to community garden

Two friends who have led the charge to create a beautiful community garden from what was once a patch of scrubland on the Highfields estate in Stafford have vowed to continue to improve the site further.

Joan Oakley and Fran Bromley are joint chairs of the Wrekin Residents’ Group, which is made up of tenants of social housing provider, The Wrekin Housing Trust.

Since 2013 Joan, Fran and other members of the group have worked tirelessly to transform the eyesore. The land is owned by Stafford Borough Council but leased to the Trust, which has fully supported the group’s ambitions.

The group’s hard work has certainly paid off as the site now features a 10-plot allotment, a small garden, a sensory garden, small orchard, as well as benches and tables for picnics.

There’s also a path that enables easy access for those with mobility issues or pushchairs, and most recently pipework was installed to allow water to be available for the allotments. Previously, Joan and Fran used to carry milk bottles filled with water from their own homes.

However, for Fran the involvement with this project has also had a deeply personal meaning as her husband Colin passed away in 2010.

“Colin used to be part of a petition to get an allotment at the site,” she said: “After he died, Joan encouraged me to put my energy into something positive, so this garden seemed like the ideal thing. Joan has been very supportive and a wonderful friend and this project has helped me keep busy and do something that will benefit the community for many years to come.

“However, we’re both in our 70's, and as much as we love doing this, we would appreciate any help we could get by way of donations of gloss paint, and manpower.”

Joan added: “The transformation has been unbelievable. It’s been hard work, but worth it, especially on those lovely sunny days when you can sit outside and you see so many people enjoying the space. That’s very satisfying.

“But if we’re being ambitious then there’s plenty we’d love to do. For example, we’d love to get funding to build a playground for young children and maybe even have a great big gazebo. There’s no harm in thinking big!”

Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy recently visited the site and praised the transformation. He said: “I was very impressed with what I saw. Everyone involved with this project should be very proud of what they have achieved. It’s become a real focal point for the community.”

The Wrekin Housing Group has been able to undertake the work thanks to a £10,000 grant from the National Lottery, The Wrekin Housing Trust’s community fund, as well as the generosity of various businesses, including SW Contractors, which installed the water pipes for a reduced price, Cartwrights Waste Disposal Services, which removed tyres and broken chairs for free, Clean Cut, which helped with site maintenance, and Reviive, which supplied various pieces of garden furniture. Meanwhile, Staffordshire Council of Voluntary Youth Services has helped get volunteers to the garden and support with applications for various funds and grants, while RD Marsh laid the path.

David Lewis from The Wrekin Housing Trust said: “What Fran, Joan and the other residents have achieved is remarkable. It’s been six years of hard work, but there’s no stopping them. They will continue to improve the garden further and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.”

Anyone of wishes to get involved with the work, or discuss taking a plot on the allotment, can contact Joan and Fran on 07452 895868.

Stafford gardens group

Pictured are:Stafford gardens community group volunteers with representatives from the Trust and contractor partners.

13th May 2019