Lyme couple willing to spend life savings on community nursery – if they can find the land

Rikey Austin and Paddy Howe, pictured at the community herb garden set up in Summerhill Road earlier this year

LYME Regis couple Rikey Austin and Paddy Howe are on the hunt for a piece of land where they can open a community garden and nursery.

The couple are willing to put their life-savings towards the project but time is running out – they have already sold their home in Silver Street and need to find a suitable piece of land to make the community project a reality as soon as possible.

The idea behind the community garden and nursery is to teach residents how to grow their own fruit and vegetables, provide locally-grown produce to those in need completely free or charge, as well as creating a sustainable food source for the whole community.

Along with the free, homegrown produce, the garden and nursery could host classes and workshops to teach residents new skills, improving physical and mental health, and would also include a ‘tool library’ from which residents could borrow items such as lawn mowers, which they may not otherwise be able to afford.

It is hoped the nursery could be run as a community interest company so it will remain for the benefit of the community in perpetuity.

Local artist, businesswoman and former town councillor Rikey founded Lyme Garden Growers a year ago with the eventual aim of setting up the community nursery.

She came up with the idea last November after meeting a young mother on a zero hours contract who was struggling to make ends meet. Rikey suggested she use the local foodbank, but the woman said she felt embarrassed due to the social stigma that can sometimes be placed on those asking for help.

Rikey commented: “No one should feel embarrassed when asking for help. Using the foodbank when needed it what it’s there for – that’s what community is all about.”

Meeting the young woman struck a chord with Rikey and she and husband Paddy made a life-changing decision to sell their house in Silver Street and buy a piece of land where they could set up a small home and run the community project.

They put their house on the market in January and the sale is now in its final stages, but they still haven’t found a suitable piece of land to move to.

Rikey and Paddy are looking for a property with about an acre of land, or a few acres where planning permission would be possible for a small home and community buildings, such as the ‘tool library’, sheds, greenhouses, poly-tunnels, etc, within a few miles of Lyme Regis.

Rikey said they have received great support from town councillors and county councillor Daryl Turner, but have struggled to find an affordable piece of land in the area, in particular due to ‘overage’ charges – meaning they would have to pay more to the previous land owner if they increased the value of the site with planning permission.

“We have lots of ideas for the community and we want to stay here to work on them,” said Rikey.

“We would be really sad to leave Lyme Regis but if we don’t find anything soon we will have to widen our search and we already have local authorities asking us to set up the project in other areas.

“Paddy and I have agreed this is what we want to do with our retirement. Everyone deserves good, local food whether they can afford it or not and making it free for everyone means there will be no stigma attached for those in need.”

While the hunt for a piece of land continues, Lyme Garden Growers has gone from strength to strength, with many residents learning to grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs at home and then donating or swapping plants depending on the local need.

They have also set up small community gardens around the town with berries and herbs free to pick, and have recently been given a flower bed in Langmoor Gardens, with discussions now underway on how to best utilise the space for the community.

To find out more search ‘Lyme Garden Growers’ on Facebook or contact Rikey Austin at Alice’s Bear Shop on 01297 444589.

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