The Garden has provided almost 600 packs for about 1,200 children across Walsall. The idea has been described as a “glimmer of hope and a chance to experiment."
Caldmore Community Garden offers local residents the opportunity to work, learn and play together in a community garden space. They are part of Caldmore Village Festival Ltd., funded by Walsall for All’s Innovation Grant to deliver the Cultures of Walsall Festival, which aims to bring communities together from across the borough. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the group made the decision to postpone the event and look at the possibility of organising it for next year.
When the group first heard about the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, there was a sense of panic. Speaking about Caldmore Community Garden, Project Worker Anna Webster said: “As a community and outdoor space, we organise a lot of community events. The aim is to bring communities together, give people a space to socialise and offer educational programmes. All of these had to stop.”
The group were also undertaking several fundraising activities to buy a new set of swings for the Garden, including a sponsored walk. These also had to stop.
Anna also spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on the Garden’s activities. She said: “The first two to three weeks were really difficult. We couldn’t do anything. We had to close the Community House and the Garden. We couldn’t be ourselves and some volunteers had to self-isolate or go into shielding.”
A few weeks into the “lockdown”, Caldmore Community Garden decided to post on their Facebook page to initially see whether people would be interested in activity packs to complete at home.
Anna Webster described it as a “glimmer of hope and a chance to experiment”, as the response from service users and residents was extremely positive and overwhelming. It was a chance to get the momentum going again, strengthen the work of volunteers and see a sense of achievement.
The gardening pack is one of several packs distributed to families across Walsall.
Caldmore Community Garden created several types of packs for their members, families and other residents, including a mystery craft pack (with ideas for activities and craft materials), a gardening pack, a knitting pack and a crochet pack. The packs also included special goodies.
Over the last month and a half, volunteers have come forward to make and deliver almost 600 packs for about 1,200 children (some packs are for more than one child). There is currently a waiting list for 200 additional packs. Caldmore Community Garden hopes they could achieve this if further funding is made available, as they do not want anyone to be left out or disappointed.
The packs have been distributed all across Walsall, funded by the Heart of England Community Foundation, Walsall for All and One Palfrey Big Local. Anna described the initiative as “an amazing opportunity to promote the Garden across the borough."
Caldmore Community Garden has also undertaken other initiatives, including partnership work with Walsall Creative Factory to sew over 1,000 bags for care homes, NHS staff at the Walsall Manor and Dorothy Pattison hospitals, as well as those in the ambulance service. It was a way of helping to respond to the crisis and maintain the group and relationships built.
They have also done a series of online gardening sessions via Zoom, kept in touch with volunteers and set up a Facebook group for parents to share activities. The volunteers are also helping to keep the Garden running while maintaining social distancing. Their holiday playscheme funded by Children in Need has also moved to online activities and they have received activity packs, delivered in a safe and healthy way.
The feedback from residents has been hugely positive, with 47% saying that they have not visited the garden before (compared to 53% to have previously visited).
Below are just some of the comments received:
We really enjoyed making different crafts and planting seeds. The packs are very good with instructions. They really made us happier.
Absolutely fantastic! We are all so very appreciative of these packs. We've loved getting messy and covered in tissue paper, creating rainbows and the boys’ nasturtiums are ready to re-pot now. It's been such a help having plenty of supplies to keep them both busy as I'm shielding and can't gain much access to kids activities while I'm unable to shop for them.
It was a really nice surprise for my kids. They have enjoyed planting the most but also used craft gadgets for their arts creations. Thank you, we truly appreciated it.
Caldmore Community Garden have been thinking about the next steps. Anna Webster said: “We will be looking out for official guidance on outdoor spaces and when it is safe to re-open. Our garden space is similar to a play park.
“At the moment, it’s not just social distancing and people being in the Garden. The focus also needs to be on surfaces, cross-contamination and if it will be safe to use the equipment.
“Once we have received guidance, we could look at doing things like restarting Garden Saturdays and having different activities in different parts of the Garden, placed in a safe way.”
The Garden is also exploring how they can deliver their holiday playscheme and educational projects, as the phased re-opening of schools and Early Years settings begin, as well as how activities could be delivered in the Community House.
Summarising the experience of the COVID-19 response work, Anna said: “It’s amazing to see lots of positive energy in the community going on during challenging times. It’s interesting to see how different community organisations have responded to the situation. Relationships have been strengthened among service users and it’s been a big opportunity for us to connect.
“It’s difficult to say what the community is going to be like in 6 months’ time, but we can make it work and we need to embrace the change and see it as an opportunity to try new things."