Coronavirus fund grant will help transform community garden

A COMMUNITY garden in Salisbury set up in memory of teenager Ben Giorgi is set to be transformed thanks to a coronavirus fund grant.

The Wiltshire Community Foundation has awarded £5,000 from its Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to youth charity Rise: 61 to buy new equipment and plants for the garden at Gainsborough Close in Bemerton Heath. The fund has now raised more than £1.1 million and distributed more than £750,000 to almost 200 groups.

The garden was created to honour the memory of Ben, 18, whose body was found in woodland close to the multi-use games area at Gainsborough Close in July 2016. Rise: 61 youth worker Robin Imeson said: “In the days afterwards some of his mates were there and people had made a little garden with flowers, prayers and messages so we went and spoke to them and they came up with the idea of creating some sort of garden to remember him by.

“We were set up to help the young people of the estate and improve their lives, so we said we’d support it.”

The group worked with young people and residents from the estate to chop down vegetation and trees and dig up stumps to clear the area, which has been leased to the group by Wiltshire Council. Four years later it has become a popular space for the community, said Mr Imeson.

“It has been a key place for people during Covid. Outdoor spaces have become really important to people and this is right in the centre of the Heath where most people live in flats without a garden,” he said.

Rise:61 has worked with young people to plant vegetables, plants and apple trees and has created a willow dome. Mr Imeson said: “During lockdown one of the first projects we felt we could get going again was the garden because it was outside.

“We are a youth charity, but we’ve found that we have also been working with adult residents, some of whom have had mental health problems. They have found working on the garden a very valuable thing to do.”

The group applied for the funding to add more improvements and Mr Imeson has now taken over the management of the project from a specialist gardening company. “I want to make the garden really nice,” he said. “We wanted to raise a bit more money to put some new things in, like some benches and play equipment for toddlers so the kids have something to do while the parents chill out.

“Everyone from the estate uses the garden, a  lot of people stop there on the way back from the shops. It was nice to go there during lockdown and see who was down there and we got some nice feedback.”

The youth charity holds sessions there regularly and Scouts and Brownies from the estate have used it for activities. “A lot of the young people just like to sit there, it’s a very peaceful place and a fitting memorial for Ben,” said Mr Imeson.

“We are very pleased to get the money from the Wiltshire Community Foundation. It will help it become an even more welcoming space that people want to use even more. It’s for everyone we want it to be as inviting and as nice as possible.”

Find out more about the youth charity here.

Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are delighted to be able to help support this community project. This is a really important space for the community and Rise:61 are working really well with the residents to make it even better.”

Donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund here or to find out how to apply for a grant here.

Pictured: Resident Sam Goss working on the Bemerton Heath community garden over the summer