How an ex-bobsleigh track became Lancaster's hidden gardening retreat

Hidden away on a stretch of land at the back of Lancaster Leisure Park is the Fork to Fork project.

Saturday, 16th July 2016, 10:00 am

While not many people may know of its existence, those that do can vouch for the help and support it is giving many people.

Launched three years ago, Fork to Fork was taken over by Piccadilly Support Services in December and is now funded by the Henry Smith Charity.

The hortcultural project offers a free service for over 18s with a variety of learning support needs, giving them skills and purpose as well as a place to interact with others.

Robin Eyre, who works on the project, said: “We are an outdoor horticultural project led by and run by a volunteer group of people with additional needs, including learning support, meantal health and drug and alcohol recovery.”

By taking on people through either self or GP referral, the project can help to address long-term problems through therapeutic horticulture.

Volunteers can also work towards BTEC levels 1, 2 and 3 qualifications in horticulture.

It is the first ‘forest garden’ in the district, with 42 per cent of everything produced being grown by the volunteers.

The two acre piece of land is leased to the project by GB Antiques, whose boss Allan Blackburn supports the work they do.

They are also helped out by neighbours Lancaster Brewery, who have raised funds to help the scheme.

WJ Pye Construction also built a shelter on the site for free, with staff giving up two days’ work each to take part.

Thanks to Awards for All funding, the group was able to repair pathways and put in guide rails and new walkways, making the area accessible to those with mobility problems.

“We are really lucky that so many people in the community support what we do,” said Robin.

“People are beginning to understand that local organic food is really good.”

Part of the site was at one time home to a bobsleigh run, and some of the structure is still visible among the plants.

The garden is home to numerous plants and wildlife, and the team has taken advice from the Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Trust in order to further improve the area as a haven for creatures of all kinds.

“Allowing nature to do its own thing is very much a part of the ethos of forest gardening,” Robin said. “We are just helping it along the way a little.

“Everything we generate we keep because it will have a function in some way. We even make our own charcoal for barbeques.”

The project has also been helped along the way by 420 trees donated by the Woodland Trust, and around 3,000 plants have been planted on the site in the last three years.

These have all contributed to turning a once derelict stretch of land into a thriving area which benefits numerous people.

“When we started out this was just a wild overgrown area with rubble,” Robin said. “There was no pathways network, they were all buried.

“It was fairly inpenetrable in places; you couldn’t access it in any way.

“But the lovely thing about forest gardening is that sometimes nature does it for you.

“We are using nature’s resources; our legacy if this was to end is that the forest garden will continue.

“When I started there was almost no wildlife here; now we see hedgehogs, foxes and deer co-existing on the site.

“And while we are doing this we are also growing ourselves in the process.”

Ward councillor Oscar Thynne has recently become involved with highlighting the work of Fork to Fork.

He said: “Fork To Fork is one of those gemstones you find in a community, previously hidden but now revealed. The John O’ Gaunt community, and wider Lancaster community, is extremely lucky to host such a project.

“In a time of uncertainty with many communities now divided, it is important to focus on inclusive projects.

“Fork To Fork is such a project, giving opportunities to those who may find themselves excluded due to support needs.

“I look forward to continually working with Fork To Fork and urge other local residents to come down and explore this special site.”

You can follow Fork to Fork on Facebook at Fork2ForkProject. The garden is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10am until 4pm, and visitors are welcome to walk around the scheme to see the work being done.