Fresh air, friends and learning to grow fruit and veg

Shelagh Laing from Twickenham has been volunteering at Environment Trust for over five years, working on the Kitchen Garden Project at Marble Hill Park in Twickenham.

This is a volunteer-led gardening heritage project which is a tribute to the enterprise of local market gardeners and nurserymen over more than a century in South West London.

Shelagh stumbled upon volunteering by accident, when she spotted a poster in a library in Hampton from Environment Trust, looking for a photographer for one of their projects.

Shelagh explains, “At the time I was doing a photography course so when I saw this poster about a local charity needing a photographer, I just thought why not. I went down to meet the group that afternoon and so initially got involved with the Trust by taking photos".

"After going down a few times to take photographs for a timeline sequence, the gardening volunteers encouraged me to join them and get involved with the actual garden work, and so this chapter of my volunteering began.”

At the Kitchen Garden there are ten community plots managed by local people who have no growing space of their own, and a further two plots that are looked after by parents and staff of local pre-school nurseries. A large part of the garden is worked by a team of dedicated volunteers.

Shelagh is part of this team of volunteers working on the garden, where the main focus is growing fruit and vegetables. Heritage fruit trees and bushes are a major feature and there is a great variety of produce produced throughout the year.

When asked what she enjoys most about volunteering Shelagh says, “I love being out in the fresh air, exercising and doing something constructive. I’ve learnt a great deal too. In fact just the other day I was emailing the group about different varieties of potatoes we could plant, something I’d never have envisaged I’d have any idea about a few years back.”

“Environment Trust gives us a lot of autonomy to just get on with it and make decisions ourselves. We’re lucky that our volunteer group has lots of different skills and experiences which are really useful in ensuring this project is a success. The Trust is also great at encouraging people who are less abled physically to get involved and it’s been delightful sharing this experience with so many different types of people I may not have otherwise met.

“It is very hard work and it can be challenging at times, not least dealing with a few rats and other rodents over the years, but I’ve made some good friends who I enjoy socialising with both at the garden and away from it. I wasn’t a keen gardener before but now I have lots of knowledge and experience of growing fruit and veg,” adds Shelagh.