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New trust helps save Lancaster charity forest garden

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If you go down to the woods today, you’ll discover a secret garden that deserves to be shouted about!

Tucked away at one of Lancaster’s busiest leisure hubs is a natural, tree-shaded oasis providing a wealth of benefits to the local community.

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The forest garden at Lancaster Leisure Park, on Wyresdale Road, is an accessible two-acre site of forest paths, wildlife habitats, seasonal plants and home-grown vegetable plots.

Open to the public, it provides a “wonderful place to wander” appreciated by visitors seeking peace and quiet amidst the bustle of the day.

At its heart is a vital charity project providing education and rehabilitation for a group of vulnerable young adults.

Fork to Fork, founded in 2013, helps people address long-term problems through therapeutic horticulture.

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Led by horticulturalist Robin Eyre, dedicated volunteers including many with learning support and mental health needs are kept busy path-clearing, propagating and potting every week, gaining not just gardening skills, but valuable social and community integration at the same time.

Yet at the end of 2017 the project was suddenly at risk of closure when financial pressures meant partners Piccadilly Garden Support Services were forced to pull out.

Luckily, Allan Blackburn, centre manager and owner of GB Antiques and Lancaster Leisure Park, plus Lancaster Brewery director Matt Jackson, recognised the importance of the project and stepped in.

Putting in their own money, they worked against the clock for a seamless transfer ensuring no positions were lost, and have now set up a charitable trust to safeguard Fork to Fork’s future.

Allan said: “I’ve been in awe of what these young adults have achieved since I donated the land to them back in 2013. To see them transform an overgrown and almost derelict area of the site into a haven for wildlife and organic produce is incredible, matched only by the joy of seeing their own confidence and skills grow and develop.”

Raising funds is an important task, too. Practising different skills, the team recently scrubbed up to hang coats instead of hanging baskets, raising more than £400 by running the cloakroom at the annual Lancaster Roundtable Beerfest.

Upcoming activities include selling home-grown plants at the Lancaster Food and Drink Festival and Kendal Calling, plus the setting up of a JustGiving page for public donations.

The team also now maintains the decorative planting across the Leisure Park, and sell their plants at CountryStyle Meats farm shop onsite.

Allan added: “At a time when charities are going through tough times, with the amazing benefits Robin and her team achieve, we’re determined not to let this project wither away.

“A garden needs visitors, and we warmly invite Lancaster residents to this wonderful haven which is open everyday. Come and stroll beneath the trees, enjoy the flowers or chat to the team.

“Whether you’re a walker, a would-be volunteer, or can dig in your pocket and donate a little change, everyone’s welcome to enjoy this little woodland wonderland.”

Fork to Fork is a food growing project set up for people with learning difficulties and support needs, working to organic and co-centric guidelines to provide opportunities for people to work outside and gain horticultural skills.

To donate please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/forktoforklancasterforestgarden and check out ‘Fork to Fork’ on Facebook for weekly Forest Garden updates and pictures.