Community Garden

During the past year volunteers continued to work on the development of the community allotment garden at the Old Mill, Cloughmills. The garden site was formerly the millpond of a disused corn and flax mil dating back to 1720. The land and buildings are owned by Ballymoney Borough Council who gave permission for CCAT to use the site and to take forward plans for the creation of a Biodiversity Park on adjoining land, which extends some 4.5 acres.

The development of the community garden project (the Happiness Project) is supported by the award of a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund. The site comprises of raised beds, two polytunnels, a natural composting toilet, storage sheds, a covered work area and an authentic Mongolian yurt which is used as a small ‘conference centre’ for a variety of community and charitable events. During the year one of the sheds was converted to a kitchen by recycling cabinets kindly donated by a local resident. With the installation of a cooker and a wood burning stove the kitchen now provides a much needed base for developing more intensive use of the community garden for courses and classes and community events. The Big Lottery Awards for All programme enabled us to acquire essential kitchen appliances and other items of equipment so that we can service these events in a more sustainable way.

The addition of a clay oven and covered canopy to the site had been a great success in helping to make the community garden a great base for fun events and to promote the benefits of healthy food. Participants at these events ware now able to be creative with making their own pizzas and experiencing the thrill of that first bite straight from the wood fired oven - La Dolce Vita is here in Cloughmills.

A poultry compound was erected at the bottom end of the community garden and hens provide a steady source of eggs for food events and are a great attraction for younger children visiting the site. The next stop will be to erect some beehives in a special protected areas in the meadowland where lots of wildflower seeds have been sown already in preparation. A training course on keeping bees was organised during the year and this was well attended.

All of this work was carried out with the support from our team of dedicated volunteers and especially by our part-time gardener / handyman who has done wonders with his joinery skills. The development and maintenance of the site has also enabled us to provide some training and work experience to young unemployed people from the local area as part of the steps to work programme.

The facilities at the garden provide a focal point for many community and charitable events and at Christmas the yurt is transformed into Santa’s Grotto. Last year we extend the Christmas event over two days to accommodate everyone who wished to attend. We also used the facilities to good effect for a Halloween event, including a scary walk into the dark along the riverside broadwalk - plenty of screaming that night !

Sustainability is a key concept in the work of our community group and the community garden is a great example of how this has been put into effect. For our Christmas event we introduced a sustainable Christmas tree by arranging a tiered presentation of old electrical cable reels salvaged from the village street lighting replacement works and adorned this structure with solar powered lighting hung form cable ties, nativity scenes made by local children from old textile sample books and presents made from painted plastic containers filled with sand. For good measure the old wooden lighting poles have been used to mark out the edges of pathways through the garden site.

The garden has attracted many study visits from other community groups across Northern Ireland and further afield and we have hosted a wide variety of training courses on 'growing your own', poultry and beekeeping, beer making, jam making, fruit juicing and natural cosmetics. These outreach activities are beneficial to local people and to the wider community and help to provide a useful source of revenue towards the maintenance cost of the garden and its facilities.

The Big Lottery - Village SOS grant enabled us to purchase equipment, storage facilities and some training to prepare us for running some of these courses and classes and this will stand us in good stead for developing the social economy in the future. We were pleased to receive recognition for our work in this field from the Countryside Alliance by winning their Ireland regional award for Enterprise.

We are continuing to work with Ballymoney Borough Council to create a biodiversity park on the meadowland behind the Old Mill. This contains a riverside walk, picnic places, wildlife habitats and woodland glades. It has been possible to further this development with assistance from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for tree planting and the establishment of a Forest School programme for the two primary schools in the village.

Conservation of the environment is a key objective of the organisation and with support from the Irish Youth Foundation we have embarked on an environmental conservation award scheme for young people through the John Muir Trust. This programme encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration. It presents challenges to discover wild places, explore them, conserve them and share them. The wildlife habitats at the Old Mill are an ideal location for these activities to take place and three of our volunteers have taken leadership roles in the delivery of this programme.

The community garden facilities have great potential for the development of programmes of social and therapeutic horticulture to enhance the physical and emotional well being of people of all ages who have experienced health difficulties. During the year we delivered an eight week programme of this nature (including an element on cooking skills) for a group of ten people from the local area. The cost of this programme was £2448 which was borne directly by the Public Health Agency through the North Antrim Community Network. We are continuing to work towards accreditation as a provider of such courses and to provide our volunteers with suitable training in the delivery of these courses. On an informal basis we have also facilitated a regular drop-in morning for residents (and their carers) living in supported housing locally.