When the UK went into lockdown again last winter, keen gardener Marina Colville, based in Shrivenham, hit on an idea to form a voluntary group, DE Gardeners, which could improve soulless Service Family Accommodation (SFA) gardens and develop allotments on DIO land.

How did it all start?

Marina (main photo) explains: “Some of the SFA here are run by Serco, so I approached the housing officer and pitched my idea. She was very supportive and we went to her boss together, who not only agreed with the pilot but put some funds into it. We launched a ‘big spring plant’ and dropped a colourful flyer into every SFA offering three types of starter plant boxes at different prices. More than 60 households took part. From a Facebook post, people picked up the idea all over the country and I went from piloting the idea to setting up groups around the UK and building the website in a very busy fortnight. It was a steep learning curve!”

What are the positives?

“It’s the power of bringing people together that’s so important. I’ve had wonderful conversations with people who are delighted at the prospect of planting up their SFA garden –- this is a very transient population so the vast majority of people have done it to ‘pay it forward’. As plants have grown, people have swapped veg plants on the Facebook page, shared gardening tips and discussed future plans. It’s all about community; so vital for military families.”

Future plans?

“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes and the change in housing contractors presents a big opportunity. Making local connections with your welfare team is a good first step to setting up a local group. I’m now living in Andover where we’re operating a community allotment.”

For more, see degardeners.com or follow @defence_estate_gardeners on Instagram.

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