Founder David Domoney explains the story behind Cultivation Street
It was Christmas, and I was walking down the local street when I noticed how the lights and decorations had become such a big part of the front of people’s houses.
What started as one or two eccentrics back in the late 90s has today become stunning lighting displays across whole streets. Seeing how it has pulled people together, with parents taking their children to see the magic of Christmas, I thought: wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could do that with gardens too?
So I decided to create a garden competition that recognises and rewards communities that are caring for their streets, as well as encouraging other communities to join together and start anew. It was originally conceived as a front garden campaign, but soon expanded to include community gardening projects, neighbourhood schemes and school gardens.
Creating beautiful gardens isn’t just about the end result – it’s the feel-good journey. It promotes respect for the community across all ages, teaches our children about nature and creates a space for everyone to enjoy and benefit from. I wanted to replicate this experience across the UK.
I joined forces with national newspaper the Sunday People and now the Sunday Mirror to get the message out to a huge audience and show just what could be achieved through community gardening. Not by TV gardeners or people in the industry, but by ordinary people who in many cases have never gardened before.
(Cultivation Street Winners 2017)
The entries and feedback were phenomenal and the stories were intensely emotional.
Back in 2013 and more recently 2018 the Cultivation Street front garden winners were Rockcliffe Avenue in Whitley Bay, where residents had battled with dog mess, graffiti and vandalism. They got together to transform the area with their front gardens, making sure that visitors respected it. That is one thing we pride ourselves in at Cultivation Street - not denying people the opportunity to enter again if they have been successful.
In 2014 in Kings Heath, Birmingham, there was a guy called Trevor who always used to sit on this park bench near some flats. He was an old guy with no family, and eventually a couple of the neighbours got talking to him. He said he liked to sit in the communal lawn of the block of flats because he used to have a house with a garden, but he could no longer afford it and now he was living in a flat.
So the neighbours started creating a garden for the community with Trevor, and eventually everybody got involved. Unfortunately, Trevor passed away as the garden was finished, but the essence of the community had already been built with his help and community gardening still continues today.
More recently in 2018 we've been inspired by a range of gardens, that target people's specific needs. With an ethos of accessibility and inclusion, 30 Armed Forces veterans have worked tirelessly to turn a once-neglected area of scrubland into a lush garden accessible to wheelchair users and amputees alike.
Project member, Linda Fisher, said: “Created by a formidable force of people who served Queen and Country, our garden has helped a significant number of people with anxiety, depression, mental health conditions, social isolation and loneliness. It’s a real community garden, with a community spirit.
Another garden that secured a Regional Community Garden prize in 2018 was the Tenby Day Centre in Wales. This fantastic project uses gardening as therapy for elderly people suffering from depression, loneliness and dementia. They have a remembrance rose garden, comfortable seating areas and a herb garden to stimulate the senses of partially-sighted visitors.
These stories are all incredibly inspirational, and seeing them published in national newspapers and magazines shows what can be achieved by communities. It’s no longer just a competition – it’s a significant community gardening campaign.
I think this is a campaign that embraces the very best of community pride and spirit. I hope we are supporting people who have been hugely successful with their own communities and inspiring others to give it a go.
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Community gardens across the UK are not only growing rapidly in numbers but are also doing incredible work, transforming lives as well as the land itself. We would love you to join us now.