Forthspring has a beautiful community garden at the back of the building. The garden creates space for nature which encourages biodiversity in a dense urban area. The garden is a fantastic resource for all the projects within Forthspring and for the local community, in particular since Covid-19 normalised outdoor activity. Some of our participants don’t have gardens or access to outdoor space, so the garden is an invaluable resource for local residents.
Gardening has many benefits including enhanced well-being, improved dexterity, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improved relaxation and satisfaction. It also provides social entertainment for those gardening in groups.
With funding from the National Lottery Covid Emergency Fund, Forthspring received funding for the garden to be adapted for much more regular use by Forthspring user groups and projects, allowing the organisation to adapt to both restrictions and opportunities caused by Covid-19 and to comply with relevant legislation. Gardening volunteers have been key to this development.
The garden is managed by a group of committed staff and volunteers who look after this important resource. This group consists of staff and volunteers from MUMO, Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) and Grow.
Good community garden practice and permaculture principles are embedded in the process of developing the garden (e.g. growing food for the local community, using and valuing local resources, producing no waste and encouraging wild areas). Springers delivered a gardening programme as part of the process of developing the garden, teaching about sustainable living, plants, herbs, seeds and elements necessary for plants to grow. Bird and bat boxes live in the trees in the garden, ready for the spring nesting session and controlling garden pests like caterpillars and moths.
With a little bit of investment, the Forthspring garden has become an important outdoor resource for the Clonard/Woodvale areas, playing an important role in local biodiversity, increasing habitats for local species. The gardener’s group is key to this process.
MUMO delivers regular sessions during the annual Summer Scheme in the garden. In August 2022, MUMO delivered a community fun day with PPR and Grow which attracted 150 local residents. Community fun days also took place in October 2022 and May 2023 – over 100 local residents attended each of these fun days. Springfield Primary School’s nursery unit is currently using the garden twice a month to support the children’s mental health wellbeing. St. Clare’s P6 pupils came up every Tuesday during the summer 2023 term and learnt a lot about digging, growing and nurturing plants. Through coming up every week, these children have learnt how we are using fewer pesticides and are always looking for a natural solution to problems in the garden – it’s never a matter of just doing something, but explaining to the children why we do it a certain way.
It gives these children regular access to outdoor space. Through this access, they have learnt to understand, enjoy and value the garden and learning outdoors. Teaching staff in both schools tie garden visits into what the children are learning in the classroom, enhancing and deepening learning in an area of educational disadvantage (Woodvale 1 and 2 rank numbers 2 and 3 in terms of disadvantage out of 174 Super Output Areas in Belfast in the Education, Skills and Training domain).
Forthspring is tied into other community gardens in Belfast through WhatsApp groups, visits and community connections.
Forthspring appreciates the fantastic efforts of the original gardeners’ group who met before lockdown and managed the garden for years before the curent group of volunteers took over.