Vollunteering continues weeding flower beds in summer socially distanced during Covid at Martineau Gardens
Two miles from the centre of Birmingham lies Martineau Gardens which offers therapeutic horticulture for the community. This year it is celebrating its 25th anniversary and we caught up with Chief Executive Jenni Fryer to discuss reaching this milestone and what lies ahead.

How will you be celebrating this anniversary? 

A 25th anniversary is a fantastic opportunity for a celebration so we are aiming to have as many as possible!

Plans are in the pipeline for events throughout the summer months finishing off with a Thank You event in September for the incredible people who have supported us over the years.

We’re about to launch a short film about the gardens and plan to refresh our visual branding so it’s going to be a busy year. Most importantly though, we hope to catch up with the thousands of people who have been part of the Martineau community for the last quarter of a century.

Celebrating Green Flag Award autumn 2020 Pavilion Garden
Celebrating winning a Green Flag Award

This milestone is an obvious moment of reflection on what has been achieved – has the charity's outlook changed significantly? What would be the main achievements and challenges? 

I’m very new to the organisation compared to many of my colleagues, but I’d say the values at the heart of the charity remain very much the same.

Our focus is on community: bringing people together in this beautiful outdoor space, in a way that is welcoming, safe and inclusive and benefits their physical and mental health.

One of our biggest achievements last year was receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which recognised the huge contribution our volunteers have made to the gardens since it launched.

It is a challenging fundraising environment for all small charities, but so far we are weathering the storm with some brilliant support from all types of funders.

QAVS see caption Claire and Munsab
Volunteers Claire Perry and Munsab Khan receive the QAVC award for Martineau Gardens from John Crabtree, Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands

How is Martineau regarded in the community it serves and what type of people benefit from your services? 

At an event the other day, someone described Martineau Gardens as ‘having people’s hearts and minds’ and I’d wholeheartedly agree with that.

People love the welcome they receive here and while we aren’t the biggest or the most perfectly manicured gardens, we probably have the biggest heart.

Our volunteers range from people living with acquired brain injury, learning disabilities and dementia to those with a diagnosis of autism, or who have mental health issues. Some people join us for a matter of months and others will stay with us for years.

Selection of veg for sale no people
A selection of produce grown and harvested by volunteers

What does the future look like considering the impact of the pandemic? 

There have been real challenges as a result of the pandemic but I think we are overcoming them to continue to provide a safe, welcoming outdoor space for people from all walks of life.

The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of outdoor space and community and the benefits for people’s overall health.

What’s your experience of social prescribing and how is it impacting your work?

Social prescribers are one of a number of referrers into our therapeutic horticulture programme and it was great before the pandemic to be able to make those connections.

It’s obviously been harder for professional networks to stay connected as restrictions change, but I’m looking forward to meeting people in the real world when we can.

Stewart Holmes in Pavilion Garden Therapeutic Horticulture Staff Copy MG Web
STH practitioner Stewart Holmes in the garden

What needs do you see that you want to address in future?

Over the last year we’ve started offering supported volunteering for young people with additional support needs, and the impact that has had for the young people involved has been transformational.

We’d like to grow this area of work, and are looking at different ways people can engage creatively with the garden space beyond therapeutic horticulture. We are already offering Tai Chi, mindfulness and yoga on a Monday and would like to explore more ways to boost people’s wellbeing in the gardens.

What in your view is the key element for success of an STH project? 

Time, tea and cake!

Whatever the space, wherever the place, people come together to share in the gardening but also to be a valued part of a community.

A tea break and a chat are often the best part of the day for everyone at the gardens, where we take the time to connect, share problems and have a really good chat and a laugh, as well debating which is the world’s best biscuit (chocolate digestive wins it for me).

Tea break and a chat
Tea breaks are important times for social connection at Martineau

How optimistic are you for the future?

I’m incredibly optimistic for the future of Martineau Gardens and for community gardens as a whole.

We have exciting plans to rebuild our HQ, which will hopefully be a great space for the next 25 years and will be fundraising throughout the year to do that. It will be wonderful to welcome people into the gardens to show them the progress over the next two years.

The pandemic has emphasised the importance of mental health and how much real human connection supports that.

It’s also brought to the fore just how vital access to outside space is and community gardens are perfectly positioned to support in both of those areas.

I’m hopeful garden numbers will grow as a result, along with the number of people benefiting from using them.

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