LYME Regis residents have been busy learning to ‘grow their own’ during lockdown, thanks to a new community initiative that is inclusive of all.
Lyme Garden Growers was founded by former town councillor and local businesswoman Rikey Austin. She came up with the idea last November after meeting a young woman who needed help from the local foodbank but said she felt embarrassed due to the social stigma that can sometimes be placed on those asking for help.
Rikey suggested the woman grow her own fruit and vegetables but she was unable to afford plants and did not have a garden.
The conversation struck a chord with Rikey and she and her husband Paddy made a life-changing decision to sell their home in Silver Street and buy a piece of land where they could run a community garden, teaching people how to grow their own and providing locally-grown produce free of charge for all.
Rikey and Paddy put their house on the market in January and have had offers, but they are still looking for a suitable piece of land to buy – preferably in Lyme Regis, about half an acre in size with space for living accommodation on site or very close by.
Selling the house and finding suitable land for the project may have been slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic, but Rikey has already got the Lyme Garden Growers organisation off the ground.
She planted everything in her large collection of seeds and set up a Facebook group which now has more than 500 members. She also invited gardener and author Charles Dowding to Lyme Regis for a public talk in January.
Residents were quick to get on board during lockdown and have also been learning to grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs and then donating or swapping plants depending on the local need.
Plants are dropped off every week at St Michael’s Business Centre, where Rikey also runs the renowned Alice’s Bear Shop, and are then distributed to those who have made requests.
The Facebook group members have also taken part in regular growing challenges and shared gardening tips and advice.
Now that many of the plants are starting to be harvested, some of the produce is being donated to the foodbank and Lyme Garden Growers are also holding weekly markets every Wednesday at the Town Mill, where produce is available very cheap or free for those in need using a discreet token system, meaning no one will know who is receiving free produce.
The group also plans to carry out a survey of the town’s soil health and has also been bulk-buying compost to save money for residents and local organisations. Eventually, when the community garden is up and running, they hope to create their own compost for free community use.
‘Everyone deserves good, local food’
The garden will offer free local produce for all, as well as a variety of classes and workshops, and a ‘tool library’ for those who don’t have gardening equipment such as lawn mowers.
Rikey hopes to eventually make the organisation a community interest company so it will remain for the benefit of the community in perpetuity.
She commented: “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.
“It will create a sustainable food source for our community, teach new skills and working with nature can also help with mental health.
“So far we have not had to pay for anything; we have given away thousands of seeds and plants during lockdown and they have all been swapped or donated and plant pots have been donated by local tips.
“Some have suggested we apply for grants but we really don’t need it at the moment, maybe in the future but not at the moment. If anyone wants to help and support us, we’d ask that they do so by growing plants to swap or donate.”
Lyme Garden Growers are currently setting up communal herb and berry gardens around Lyme Regis, including outside the Baptist Church, St Michael’s Business Centre and in Summerhill Road, where a large wooden planter has been built specially by local teenager Jevan Hampton Rumbold, who has developed an interest in woodwork during lockdown.
As well as planters he has started making children’s benches with sandpits or storage areas inside and other bespoke items. Anyone interested in Jevan’s work can get in touch by calling 07969 337 393 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Garden Growers are also in discussion with other organisations, such as Magna Housing, the Woodland Trust and town council to make use of areas of land for community growing.
For more details or to start growing and sharing plants, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/486481328566802/ or contact Rikey Austin at Alice’s Bear Shop.