Rainbow Community Garden
Rainbow Community Garden
Name of lead: Brenda Elm
Name of group/organisation: Rainbow Garden Hull - Growing Community
Address: Levisham Close, Hull, HU6 8AB
Open to the public? YES - but you must book in advance
What are the opening times? The Garden opening times may vary due to coronavirus restrictions. Because the safety of staff, volunteers and visitors is paramount, access to the garden is provided by appointment only. Staff and trustees of the Garden are delighted that, along with other hygiene precautions, a newly built washing station has already allowed regular volunteers to benefit from arranged sessions.
If you’d like to book a session, you can either send a message to the Garden’s Facebook page or call Brenda on 07746 723804.
About Rainbow Community Garden
Situated in a quiet cul-de-sac off Endike Lane within North Hull Estate, Rainbow Community Garden is a vibrant example of community opportunism. Using waste land left over from housing re-development in 1998, this well-established space offers something for every age group.
The Garden comprises a dedicated allotment area that is tended by different groups and supported with greenhouses and a large shed normally used for meetings and cups of tea. Rainbow Community Garden also boasts raised beds for use by people with mobility impairments, an accessible composting toilet, children’s play in the fairy garden, bug hotels, ponds, a variety of wildlife areas and informal planting with sculptural elements provided by local volunteers, and a selection of native trees alongside a beautiful willow arch that provides shelter from the heat during summer as well as willow rods for weaving.
What was the inspiration at the very beginning?
In the 1990s the North Hull Estate was the first established Housing Action Trust (HAT), which was involved in the refurbishment and improvement of around 2,000 properties before it was disbanded in 1999. A piece of wasteland used for dumping rubbish from the refurbishment programme caught the eye of founder Jeannie Webster who made an approach to the HAT to put the land to good use, as a result in 1998 Rainbow Community Garden was granted a 99 year lease to use the land for the good of the community.
Now in its 22nd year of operation, Jeannie has retired and the role of Coordinator has been assumed by Brenda Elm who is ably supported by Emma Jenkins, both Gardeners by trade. Brenda began volunteering as a Gardener and Tutor in 2004 eventually becoming a salaried employee in 2013, Emma joined in 2008 under the local work guarantee scheme and they have both worked the Garden ever since.
The garden has always been a sanctuary for local residents to come and escape the pressures of everyday life, and provide a place for plants and wildlife establish a permanent bolthole within an urban setting.
How has this changed over time?
The focus was never on purely formal decorative planting, you are just as likely to find fruit and vegetables growing amongst the crocuses and fuchsia bushes. The raised beds host a variety of vegetables over the summer and into the winter months, with volunteers adopting certain spots for themselves and growing what they want to eat. Experimentation is welcomed and unusual plants such as Tromboncino Squash can be found alongside the Brussels Sprouts and potatoes.
The allotment area has dedicated patches for families and individuals to nurture over a season. These smaller patches give people the ability to work on their crops without having to commit to undertaking a full allotment which can prove unmanageable for many. This flexible approach allows for a flow of different people to come and go as they wish, making the best use of the resources available in a way that suits them.
The way Rainbow Community Garden is used has developed, responding to local need. Occasionally the Garden accommodates groups from the nearby residential care home, giving people with dementia the ability to enjoy the garden. Similarly, pupils from Frederick Holmes special school also attend and are able to learn about growing in a safe environment. The Garden has recently received a grant from the CCG to provide social prescribing activities for people experiencing social isolation, as well as funding from National Lottery and Two Ridings Community Foundation who have also provided valuable support.
There is no expectation for people to take part in growing, if they just need place to come, rest and retreat from the outside world, have a cup of tea and a biscuit and enjoy the birdsong, they are welcome to do so.
Since 2013, Rainbow Community Garden has successfully applied for and has been awarded the annual Green Flag Award, one of only two awards given in 2020 to public spaces in Hull (the other is East Park). The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world. For a small community garden sited within a housing estate to maintain the standard required over seven successive years, this is an exceptional achievement.
Did lockdown have an impact?
During the first lockdown in 2020, the Garden was closed completely with Brenda and Emma taking over the allotment plots, raised beds and greenhouses to grow vegetables for the community. When harvested, the produce was offered to local residents, or anyone who requested it. Any surplus (such as the Tromboncino Squash) was diverted to TimeBank who used their community kitchen facilities to prepare meals for those experiencing food insecurity.
Emma maintained weekly telephone contact with volunteers who requested it, checking in with them and ensuring they had everything they need. The Women’s Group maintained their activity online, sharing craft and growing projects via the Facebook group, with Emma and Brenda delivering materials to support these projects.
A care worker from a local residential home used the garden as a place to escape the pressures of work and the constant coronavirus chatter.
Unfortunately, due to lockdown, the regular after school and holidays clubs for children had to stop, and it is these that have been missed the most, with the aim of getting these restarted in 2021.
As a result of the first lockdown, the Garden now operates a booking policy to manage numbers and ensure the safety of everyone attending. This is something they are considering continuing once the pandemic is over.
Who do they engage with on a regular basis?
Before lockdown there were approximately 15 regular volunteers, plus various groups that made use of the garden as well as families who participated in the after school and holiday clubs.
Who would they like to engage with?
The main aim is to get everyone back that attended prior to lockdown, especially the families as the benefit that children get from being outside is incalculable.
In addition to this, they would like to grow the Women’s Group, and get more young women from the estate attending, giving them the opportunity to explore creative activities that they may not have been able to access before.
What are their aspirations for the future?
The aim is to understand and connect with the local population of the estate more as some don’t even know it exists. Activities are supported by donations, although they are free for those who cannot afford it, and there is a dedicated trustee group who raise funds through sponsored events.
They have been working with local arts organisation Back to Ours who have designed a banner (kindly donated by local print company Scribes) for them that they will be taking around the estate, asking people what they want from the garden and what they would like to see there.
Future plans include working with St Michael’s Youth Project to ensure more people get access to fresh fruit and veg who need it. Further work to forge links with other community organisations on the estate is ongoing so that they can reach more people.
An ethos of understanding the Garden as a conduit for good mental and physical health is at the heart of all of the work done. Demonstrating that it is vital that people are able to get out in the open air, enjoy the greenery, listen to birdsong and become immersed in the natural world, even if it is for just a short while. Rainbow Community Garden is an inclusive and welcoming space for all.