A new community garden will open in Clay Cross this weekend, thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers.
Land at the back of the town’s Methodist Church on High Street has been redeveloped to include a children’s play area, prayer labyrinth, small orchard and vegetable plots.
Ann Anderson, who is minister at the church, said: “The garden is unique to Clay Cross. It’s at the end of the regeneration scheme for the town but we’ve regenerated before anyone else.
“The hope is that the community will come and use it for private functions such as children’s parties or weddings, baptisms and church services.
“There is a midwife centre next door and we hope that mums will bring their toddlers to play here.
“We are growing vegetables which people can take free of charge or we will give to the food bank across the road.”
The land was redundant for 45 years following the demolition of a Labour Exchange. One of the schemes suggested for the site was an outdoor classroom for the infants school which overlooked it but the cost of £65,000 proved prohibitive.
When the Smithybrook residential centre was built on the school site five years ago, the church was asked whether anything could be done about its overgrown land.
Ann said: “We went to see parish councillor Ted Mansbridge and told him we thought we could utilise the space more.
“He suggested we contact the Tesco Bags For Life scheme and we were awarded £8,000 from that.”
The initiative attracted £5,000 from the Border Methodist Circuit and donations and discounted products from businesses and tradesmen.
Volunteers worked tirelessly to create this peaceful community space in the centre of town.
Forty tons of hardcore, 12 tons of chippings, six tons of top soil, two tons of sand, a ton of cement and 100 paving slabs had to be moved manually by the volunteers who created the garden.
Brian Coppells, 67, who lives in Shirland, said: “I came in to do the hard graft just after Christmas. I shifted seventy-one barrowloads of hardcore in one day.”
The only mechanical help which the volunteers had was from a mini-digger brought in for half a day to level the land.
Ann, Brian and retired couple David and Joan Spray have been at the forefront of creating the garden, supported by 20 willing helpers.
Ann said: “Our oldest volunteer is my father-in-law, John Anderson, who is 84. He painted all the benches. The youngest volunteer is David and Joan’s grandson, Stephen Sutcliffe, who is 24. He helped build the gazebo and move tree trunks.”
David, 71, and Joan, 69, of Danesmoor, were the first recruits to join minister Ann in the project. Joan said: “I’d been praying for a year for someone like Ann to come to this circuit. She came with such enthusiasm and vision that you could not refuse her when she made a request.
“There has been a lot of financial and time generosity between the four of us to make this happen.“
Last autumn the volunteers began cutting down 8ft brambles and digging out tree trunks, a year after Derbyshire Community Payback team had originally cleared the site.
Ann, 52, of Tupton, said: “We found thirty-one gravestones, five tyres, half a car engine and six skiploads of bricks.”
With the site a blank canvas, the volunteers used their imagination to design the garden and their skills in joinery and horticulture to create it.
David’s contributions included making a cross from old wood stored at the church and erecting a gazebo. He said: “The gazebo was fun to put together. I am pleased we have a nice big bench so I can lie on it.”
Joan said: “I feel quite content that we’ve created something that can be used for the good, something that other people can enjoy.”
l Clay Cross Community Garden will be opened on Saturday, April 15, at 2pm by the Rev Paul Worsnop, assistant chair of Nottingham & Derby Methodist District. There will be an Easter egg hunt and cakes during the afternoon.