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From the seed of an idea, Rudyard Road Community Garden flourishes

It only takes a few committed people to change a corner of a community, Hillsborough residents have discovered.

Nature returns

Nature returns to the Rudyard Road Community Garden plot, with poppies flourishing.

Helen Dyson

Learning about the latest projects and community initiatives in Sheffield happens in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they arrive with a splash across the local press or in sponsored posts on social media.

Other times it's a direct message which just says: Do you know about what we are doing? This is how I found myself in Hillsborough one Friday evening, walking away from the busy high street and rumbling trams to a quiet spot on a nearby cul-de-sac.

I’d arranged to meet resident Helen Dyson to find out more about the patch of wasteland that residents and friends have been cultivating to create a community garden. Here is Helen’s account of the journey so far, in her own words.

I moved here at the beginning of the first Covid lockdown and I became intrigued by the plot.

I was walking past every day with my dog and I kept thinking, why is this patch of land not built on? It’s in the middle of a high density housing area. It’s a shame that it is just rubble and gravel, as it would be nice to have a green space with wild flowers.

I considered doing a bit of guerilla gardening, but I noticed once the restrictions were lifted every three months the land was sprayed with pesticides. It was part of the street maintenance by Places for People housing association. I thought there was no point gardening if there’s going to be pesticides and so I got on a mission to find out why it was being done and to ask them to stop.

It was thought it was being sprayed due to ragwort being poisonous to horses, but you don’t get many horses in this part of Sheffield! I later found out from an expert in moths and butterflies who lives nearby that ragwort is actually one of the few plants that the cinnabar moth lives on.

It took many months to find out more. Eventually the Area Manager from Places to People came to have a look. He was great and could see the potential for a community garden, and ended up passing on some funding for urban garden projects. This gave us the funds to get started with a few tools and top soil.

Marking out the borders

Residents marking out the borders of the plot.

Helen Dyson

After a short time of no spraying, the poppies started to come. They are a symbol of resilience to me now.

At times it has been very bureaucratic looking for support and answers. In the first six months I was close to giving up as I was getting passed from pillar to post. Then I was walking by one day and I noticed a tomato plant had self seeded. I saw this as the tomato of hope and I wrote a poem about it. These are the little things that kept me going.

We also had support from local members of the Green Party. They helped promote the work we were doing at the start and put out a call out for people to come here one Saturday. I thought no-one would come but I came round the corner and saw lots of neighbours and people I had not met who wanted to help.

Our small, dedicated group developed into a committee with a chair, secretary and treasurer and we started to formalise our plans together.

We have put compost and topsoil down, removed rubble and chunks of breeze block to make borders. It’s encouraging seeing ladybirds, bees and butterflies return. The poppies looked so wonderful, and gradually other plants and cornflowers have emerged.

Not everyone thought it was a good idea at the start, but I could clearly see it doesn’t have to be like this.

I'm really interested in the politics about who owns what land. I started noticing these types of places and thinking, why are they there, filled with rubbish and abandoned trolleys?

We have been working with other community gardens like Holme Lane. They are more established and learning from their experiences and knowledge has been so helpful.

People have been very generous and given us plants and tools, and we have had all sorts of donations. One of the hardest things is getting people to eat what we grow, like the rocket, courgettes and strawberries.

Now we are more established, we have had people come over who had doubted our efforts and said that we are doing well. One lady told us we have brought new life to the area.


Courgettes growing at Rudyard Road Community Garden.

Helen Dyson

My plan is to get a notice board on the street to share what is happening to encourage involvement.

We want to keep people informed and not everyone uses social media.

Eventually we want to get a pergola as this can be a space for people to sit – it could be a performance space – and we can have drainage which runs off the roof to collect rainwater. I have been learning what planting is sustainable by reading articles by Beth Chatto.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would love to see the garden being used by the community.

Once we have grass and the meadow planting, and hopefully a more efficient watering system, it would be great to have more people getting involved. I want to reassure anyone who is interested that you will not be asked to do hard physical work and no experience is necessary.

I would really like people to come and use the space, as they might not want to garden or be well enough to but they would enjoy a natural, communal space. That is all involvement, as people can connect and chat about other things.

This is a neighbourhood of mixed backgrounds with young families, older people living on their own and people like us of working age. We live in a very atomised country and a lot of these spaces where people can come together have been lost.

It has made such a difference to me doing this, as I have a lot of health issues and there have been times I haven't been able to garden. But I can walk past and see it and I can think, we did that. We have helped make something better.

Learn more

You can learn more about Rudyard Road Community Garden and how to get involved via the below links, or by sending them an email.

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