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Surrey Countryside Champions – Farncombe Community Garden

Andy Smith
By Andy Smith
5th July 2024

Community gardens can be such a wonderful addition to local areas, but they can take a lot of work to get off the ground so need determined people to make them happen. GPs from Binscombe Medical Centre were determined to create a community garden for their local area that would support residents with mental, physical and social issues, as well as the wider community.

We spoke to one of the founders and trustee Karen Jones to find out how they have created a thriving space for the local community and what we can expect to find at Farncombe Community Garden.

1. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Please could you summarise who you are and what you do?

My name is Karen Jones, and I am one of the trustees of Farncombe Community Garden. We have a management committee of 11 people: Helen, Martin and Deepa who are also trustees, and Andy, Tessa, Heather, John, Elaine, Karen Blight and Paula. We all bring different skills to the project but are very passionate about what we want to achieve.

2. How did the Farncombe Community Garden come about?

I used to work as a GP at Binscombe Medical Centre. While there, I helped to set up a successful Walking for Health group. The walk happens every week and has developed into a friendly supportive activity helping local people with mental health issues, physical debility, bereavement, and social isolation. We hatched the idea for the garden over a coffee break on a busy working day, (Andy and Martin are GPs too) to try and appeal to other patients as well as the wider community – the rest is history!

Image of Farncombe Community Garden showing vegetable patches and a scarecrow

3. What does the community garden aim to do?

Our aim is to develop the garden into a real asset for people who want to be out in nature, while recognising and improving the biodiversity on site. We want to encourage people to come and volunteer and garden if they want, develop friendships, and become part of a welcoming community. We are already working with Duke of Edinburgh and the ecology forum students at the local secondary school opposite us, a school for autistic children and a charity supporting adults with learning difficulties, all of whom love our open space. The link with Binscombe Medical Centre and other GP practices will mean that patients could come to the garden as part of the Social Prescribing scheme.

4. How did you get from the initial idea to where you are now?

It took us a long time to find a suitable site and then get a lease and planning permission agreed. This was mainly due to one site falling through and then the pandemic during which everything was put on hold. Helen, our chair of trustees, is a formidable project manager and Deepa has managed to secure funding for a lot of the infrastructure now in place. Karen (Blight) is a professional garden designer and donates her time and expertise to the overall layout and the planting detail. We have committed to do as much as possible ourselves, though we have also worked with some great contractors.

5. What sort of things would we find in the community garden?

The garden has an accessible path suitable for wheelchairs. It has a composting toilet, areas for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, a poly-tunnel, beginnings of an orchard and a pond. We have a woodland area we are putting a smaller path through, a mound for children to run up and a fire pit. We are hoping to have a large wildflower meadow centrally and have applied for funding for a building. We have a wide range of fruit and veg planted and had great success last year with beans, courgettes, and cauliflower.

Image of Farncombe Community Garden with seating area in the centre

6. Why is the project so important?

There is a lot of evidence that being outdoors in nature can help to improve health and well-being. The garden is locally placed and accessible by foot and public transport from the local village. The volunteers who are now coming regularly are enjoying being part of a big project and watching it grow. Seeing groups working and chatting together whether learning a new skill or weeding is heart-warming.

7. How can Surrey residents get involved and support this project?

The best way to get involved is to come and visit us and see what we’re up to and if you like us! We have a website, Facebook page and are on Instagram. Everyone is welcome and there are always a variety of jobs to do at any one session. We are always looking for sponsorship to help support the project but if people have skills that they think could help us then they can email us as well.

8. Your team of volunteers do amazing work. When you are not at the Community Garden, what is your favourite green space to explore?

Karen: I love the Surrey Hills and am grateful for the access we have to such beautiful and varied countryside. I live in Guildford and if I had to pick one area, I would choose Pewley Down, Chantries and St Martha’s as my favourite.

Martin: My favourite green space is Whitmoor Common, especially in the spring when there is a chance of hearing nesting nightjars!

Helen: I would choose Merrow Down leading up to Newlands corner. It is lovely to be able to walk through the woods to the top of the downs and enjoy the fantastic view.

Tessa: I have two special green spaces. One is the North Downs Way near my house. The woods are full of different birds and plants all year. My second is a huge oak tree nearby which I visit regularly just to lean against, relax in its shade and yes, I talk to it too.

Karen B: Wisley Gardens is my favourite. There is always something different to see throughout the seasons and I find it so inspirational.

Heather: Triangle Wood near Churt, an area of woodland my partner and I own and spend our spare time in.

Elaine: Loxhill and Hydons Ball and Heath for me!

Paula: Chinthurst Hill for me.

Andy: My favourite greenspace is St Martha’s Hill very early on a chilly autumn morning, looking across to the beautiful trees on Winterfold with the mist hanging silently in the Albury Valley.

Image of Farncombe Community Garden with Polytunnel to the bottom right of the image and a path leading through the garden down the centre