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Reform Magazine | December 5, 2023

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Time to grow

Time to grow

Stephen Tomkins explores an awardwinning community gardening project

Liz Styan had long had hopes for two plots of waste ground neighbouring her church, Zion United Reformed Church in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, especially as the church had qualified as an Eco Church. The land was overgrown and covered in broken glass and needles. Nothing happened for years, but then in 2015 the owner of one of the plots happened to bemoan its condition to a former elder of the church, just as Liz was taking early retirement as a GP. He said: ‘I’ve got just the woman for you.’

Once both landowners had agreed to the project, Liz, her husband and a group of friends cleared and cultivated the land to create a beautiful community garden for local people to help with and enjoy. The project brought together the church’s ecological commitments with Liz’s medical background, she says. ‘It’s about the importance of the natural world and God’s provision through the earth, and knowing that people’s wellbeing doesn’t come out of a bottle. They might get ten minutes of me in consultations; what they really needed was contact with other people and with the earth, meaning and purpose, opportunities to belong and to give, and exercise and to be outside. All of those lovely things that you can’t offer as a GP.’

The Secret Garden opened for gardening sessions for about ten volunteers, twice a week. As well as flowers and shrubs, they grow fruit and vegetables: onions, beans, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, potatoes, peas. Volunteers deliver some of the produce to a foodbank and a women’s refuge…

Stephen Tomkins is Editor of Reform. The Secret Garden won joint first prize, worth £2,000, in the United Reformed Church Community Project Awards 2018, an initiative sponsored by Congregational and General Insurance plc. Winners of the 2020 Community Project Awards will be announced at the URC General Assembly in 2021, alongside the 2021 winners


This is an extract from an article published in the November 2020 edition of Reform

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