Beyond The Wall provides horticultural and hospitality training and work experience within a beautiful Victorian walled garden near Eye, Suffolk. Clients with learning and/or other extra needs learn life skills, form friendships and develop new hobbies and interests such as photography or bird-watching.
Karen Bleay was appointed as the project manager last year. She describes why she feels there is something magical about the place she is lucky to work in.
“Beyond The Wall is a charity created by the land owner, the late Lord Henniker, in 1987. He was ahead of his time in wanting to provide a nurturing and inspiring environment for young people who are not thriving, either due to disability, mental ill health or behavioural problems. Some volunteers and clients/members have been coming here for over two decades.
“There is something about the site that is very special. The garden used to serve the house and is in the middle of ancient woodland. There are walks through the estate that are used by the public. We are at the the far end of the trails and people 'discover' the garden on their walk. There’s a small gate in the walls surrounding the garden known as the Master’s gate. Members of the public walking in the woods can peep in and come in to explore our lovely space. It’s a bit like a secret garden.
“It’s a huge site – two acres – and surrounded by 10 foot walls so it feels very safe, especially for people with anxiety or autism. It’s a very calming space – you can see people’s shoulders drop and relax as they enter the garden. Our 30 members (8 volunteers and 4 members of staff) have renovated and now maintain the orchard and beautiful gardens which are open to the public to enjoy. The site is almost wholly maintained by people with learning disabilities and autism. Visitors are often blown away by this fact because the quality of the work we do together is so high.
“Our annual Blossom Day and Apple Day (with produce from our 30+ different apple and pear trees!) are very popular. We propagate and sell plants, cut flowers, vegetables and fruits and also make pies and cakes from our produce to sell. Monthly lunch groups encourage our members to harvest, prepare and eat healthy lunches using our produce.
“Our volunteers are often 65+ and looking for fun, friendship and meaningful work - without their regular volunteering here they would struggle with loneliness and isolation, and our gardening jobs would struggle to get done!
“Our members/clients love coming and having daily contact with the outdoors, carrying out the meaningful physical jobs which give a sense of achievement and walks in the surrounding woodland giving exercise, mindfulness and relaxed time in a group. They have lots of choice all the time about twhat they want to do and where they want to be in the gardens.
“Our quiet tearooms are another oasis for those struggling with personal issues - it's amazing how often people pop in for a tea when what they really need is a good long chat.
“I feel so lucky to work with such wonderful people and love seeing the difference the walled garden makes to peoples lives. When I asked a volunteer recently what he would improve here, he answered "well what can I say - it's magical here!" There is definitely something very special about this place.”
Finally, what do you value about being a member of SF&G?
“It’s good for all the projects to have an organisation that can speak on our behalf in the national context. We are small and can sometimes feel forgotten. It’s nice to be part of a bigger club.”
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