The importance of social connection has been brought home by the pandemic – lockdowns have simultaneously separated people from family and friends and brought neighbours together. The demands of army life, with frequent moves and deployments, can make it particularly challenging to develop a sense of belonging.

As restrictions eased, one army community at Chetwynd Barracks in Nottinghamshire wanted to find a way to unite people and the idea for a shared garden was born. It’s being led by Capt Ed Rydings and supported by a committee, including his wife Lucy Rhodes (both in main photo), local nursery management committee member Nicky West, Force Protection Officer Ian Barnes, Station Welfare Officer Paddy O’Reilly and a wealth of volunteers. A ‘patch poll’ showed there was plenty of interest, so a plan was put together.

Positive health benefits

Lucy explains: “We received DIO approval to construct 30 allotments and a community garden on a disused area of camp. The aim was to capitalise on growing enthusiasm for gardening and its positive health and wellbeing benefits and bring the community back together after lockdown.

“By mid-April, the garden boundaries had been marked out and individual plots allocated in time for spring planting.

“It would not have been possible to complete the initial phase within this timeframe without amazing support from the community who turned out at weekends to cut turf, dig, make raised beds, build fencing and plant up the social areas with communal herbs, strawberries, rhubarb and flowers.”

Growing funds

An initial injection of funds came from the group selling seedlings and other garden items across camp as part of a children’s activity trail. This was given a big boost by donations, together with in-kind support –including free machinery hire and 60 tonnes of topsoil – from generous local businesses.

Lucy says: “An engineering team helped with building planters and garden furniture for the garden and also to raise money. Others carried out a land quality survey or dusted off their diggers to lift the turf on the plots. The nursery has taken up a plot to grow food for the children as a space for play and learning.

“We harvested lots of crops – shallots, broccoli, courgettes and kale – and the nursery children have loved coming down for their garden time.

“It’s been an amazing experience, and we have had some super feedback about the impact that it has had on the mental health and mindset of those using the garden.”

What’s next?

Now that construction is complete and plot-holders have had a successful first growing season, the volunteers would like to see the community garden being used more by the wider Chetwynd Barracks community as a beautiful outdoor space for relaxing, meeting, learning and socialising.

Lucy adds: “There are a few ideas in the pipeline including gardening talks and cookery classes using produce from the garden. We know that community gardens have been set up on several other camps and hope that others will pick up their spades and do the same!”


Capt Rydings wins a signed print from The Remembrance Collection by artist Jacqueline Hurley of POSH Original Art. Jacqueline’s collection is her personal thank you and tribute to our armed forces, veterans and their families; and a commemoration of those who have fallen or been injured in past campaigns. She paints to evoke emotion, reflection and remembrance in her unique and expressive style. To view the collection, visit poshoriginalart.co.uk

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