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Active Gardens- “It’s all about community.”

#TheBigSuffolkPledge is now in full swing, across Suffolk individuals, groups and businesses are thinking about how they can support volunteering locally. If you are wondering what kind of volunteering roles are available and why they are important, hear what ActivGardens have to say about their volunteers.

If you are thinking about volunteering in the fresh air in a role that will really benefit your local community, ActivGardens may be what you are looking for. Set in the heart of Ipswich, the People’s Community Garden at Maidenhall Allotments is a little oasis, filled with wildlife, vegetable gardens and friendly chatter. The People’s Community Garden is one of three community spaces operated by ActivGardens as part of ActivLives. ActivGardens also facilitates Chantry Walled Garden project in Chantry Park and at Belle Vue Park volunteering group in Sudbury. The team at Community Action Suffolk met with Ian Hirst, Operations Manager at ActivGardens, who explained that these community gardens are all about inclusivity and community. The Community Gardens are community spaces where people can garden together and offer a variety of benefits to those who attend.

The Community Gardens are not just for the green-fingered among us, they are for anyone who wishes to have their spirits lifted and improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Ian explained that “the gardens belong to everyone, we all take ownership of the space”. The therapeutic nature of the ActivGardens has supported the recovery of many people who attend – some living with mental health issues; others recovering from physical injuries or disabilities. It doesn’t matter what the history or experience of those who attend is, they will be met with a friendly welcome and will soon be part of the team.

There is so much on offer, vegetable growing areas, an orchard, sensory garden and even bee hives. With such variety comes plenty of work – which is where Ian’s team of supportive volunteers comes in handy. Ian explained that without his volunteers these jobs simply wouldn’t get done. ActivGardens have developed a ‘transition into volunteer’ approach, this means that those who come along to try the garden can transition into being active volunteers as their confidence grows. Ian talks highly of his volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have something special to offer. He has a team of up to 60 volunteers that help throughout the week.

As Ian toured the Community Gardens, he proudly showed off the new bee garden, a beautiful space that had previously been overgrown. It was a daunting job to transform this area, but Ian had the help of a formidable team of unique volunteers. ActivGardens has benefited from Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) this involves local businesses giving their staff time to volunteer, this was arranged by the Volunteering Team at Community Action Suffolk. This addition to Ian’s volunteering team makes a dramatic difference. Ian explained that working with ESV businesses “has been brilliant, those who have volunteered have done a great job, they have worked so hard and completed jobs in two days that would have otherwise taken us ten!”

The benefits of volunteering are well known but ActivGardens really does offer their volunteers a special experience. Volunteering outside in a peaceful environment and reconnecting with nature is healing to anyone, but especially important if you are leading a busy or stressful lifestyle. For volunteers wanting to improve their physical health these active roles will really help; but even if your physical fitness is not where you would like it to be there will still be roles suitable for you. There is so much to learn, and no experience is needed – from wildlife to beekeeping there is so much variety. More than that is a sense of camaraderie, being part of a wonderful community and building friendships.

There are so many projects involved in ActivGardens that there really is something for everyone. The ActivHives Project offers hands-on sessions to those interested in beekeeping – it’s a wonderful way to get firsthand beekeeping experience. ActivSheds invites people who enjoy working with tools and would like to meet with others. It is a great way to take part in projects such as renovations, building raised beds and cold frames. ActivGardens also offer more structured courses their 12-week ‘Gardening In Mind’ programme to support mental wellbeing, which gets people involved in gardening, growing and environmental activities. Take a look for yourself and see how you can get involved.

ActivGardens, like many local charities, needs volunteers so if you are interested why not pledge your support to ActivGardens as part of #TheBigSuffolkPledge? Visit The Big Suffolk Pledge – Community Action Suffolk Active Lives 01473 345350