Work on Swaffham community allotment starts

Volunteers armed with shovels, spades and trowels have started work on a new community allotment designed to promote positive mental health in Swaffham.

The ESCAPE project, led by Family Action, has received Ecominds Big Lottery funding for the next two years to develop an allotment which can be used and maintained by a wide range of groups in the area.

It aims to support people in mental distress through ecotherapy – work and experiences outdoors – while tackling the stigma often attached to mental health problems.

The project is being run in partnership with West Norfolk Mind and the Garden Science Trust, a gardening horticultural group for people with learning difficulties based at the town's EcoTech Centre.

Swaffham Town Council donated two plots on the town's Tumbler Hill allotment site to the project last year and about 20 volunteers and members finally got stuck into the first organised work session this week after funding came through this summer.

Despite the wet weather, the team managed to lay out paths and flower beds, patch up fencing and start building raised beds at the site, which is currently a blank canvas.

Over the coming months, it will be transformed ready for more community groups to join in and start planting next year. Eventually, fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers will be grown and a seating area will be built where people can meet and share ideas or advice.

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Karen Bek, ESCAPE co-ordinator, said while the focus was on helping people with mental health problems, she also wanted to see other community groups and individuals get involved, including young people.

'By making it a community project, we hope to break down barriers. People can see we are not doing something unusual down here, we are just supporting people who have a harder time than the rest of us.

'If people are not interested in gardening, they can always pop down, have a cup of tea and a wander and just enjoy being outside.'

Ms Bek said other allotment holders had been fantastic, welcoming the project and offering to lend a hand.

'It's these people who really make all the difference,' she added.

Another organised work day is to be held next month and volunteers are always needed to support users or help with practical tasks.

Groups and individuals interested in getting involved can contact Karen Bek on 01760 720302 or email