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The Enchanted Garden

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

H.E.L.P (Hilcote Environment Leisure project) are a group of residents that have been working together to better their village since 2016.

One of their long serving projects has been regenerating a patch of waste land on pasture lane into the new ‘Hilcote Royal Oak Meadow And Woodland’, formally refuse site. Through the years the group have worked tirelessly to plant hundreds of trees, build paths, create a memorial garden and walk and even showcase local Derbyshire stone. Once an eyesore, the place now is a place for the village to enjoy, a piece of land that through voluntary effort has become nothing to something that continues to get more special as the group evolve their plans.

This year H.E.L.P have been working with Greater Creative to regenerate a corner of the land into an ‘Enchanted Garden’. Inspired to create new spaces for younger children in the area and for some of the volunteers and residents to build new skills, we embarked on a co-creation project together with talented creatives.

The group worked with local born art teacher and seasoned practitioner Sally Newham to design a space together and to bring this into fruition over the course of the project. Sally, a multi skilled artist had begun working with willow and was keen to expand her knowledge and expertise of the material with the group. The group were also keen to work with Andrew Frost again, a local wood sculptor who had worked with them on previous project. The first phase of the project was the Research and Development stage, where Sally worked with the group to co-design the plans for the space. This was their ambition:

(illustrations by Sally Newham).

The group prepared the land, cutting it back and then went on to work with Sally regularly creating a dome and tunnels from live willow. What began as a few scheduled sessions became a much more hearty project where the collective came together to work often on th land. The more time the group spent at the site working, the more people that got involved. Local dog walkers joined in, folks from other villages who were passing by, some becoming regulars too getting involved with the growing project! Sally worked with the group and residents to make willow bees and explore sculptural forms as well as maintenance of the willow.

During the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations Sally hosted a community event that invited in locals to come and take part in a ‘Queen bee’ willow event. H.E.L.P members volunteered on the day to facilitate the event and participants experienced having a go at making their own bees, weaving a large scale community crown and weaving into a ‘Queen bee’ sculpture created by Sally. It was a joyful day!

Westhouses Community Association have since claimed the ‘community crown’ piece for their ‘secret Garden’, a plot of land they are currently regenerating. Sally is working with the group to grow their skills of willow weaving.

Wood sculptor Andrew Frost worked with the group to bring their ideas to life. A storytelling Wizard throne, toadstool seats and a sunset rustic bench were imagined from the research and development plans. Andy went off to his local workshop to create these pieces bringing them back a few months later to be installed.

As the project grew, so did the groups thoughts on placement for the wood sculptures. Finally, the group decided to change the plans and installed most of the wood pieces in different places (just beside the willow instead of it interweaving with the original concept).

The project has received some lovely feedback to date from the community, here’s some of the comments by local residents:

‘My lad is a fan, he loves the willow dome and the tunnels’

‘there’s not much magic for kids around here, nice to see there’s a wizard and some toadstools to get their imaginations going’

‘I love the fact its all wood and willow and fits in with the land up here’

‘I like the seat, it’s good to sit on this bench when the sun goes down, a place to relax’

The space has since commissioned a new bespoke sign which was created by local pyrography artist Lizzie Appleby and Andrew Frost.

H.E.L.P have had two visit requests where other groups will be coming in Autumn to learn about the land and how they have regenerated the space. They have also since been a guest speaker at Black Shale (Local Cultural education Partnership for Bolsover & Amber Valley) ‘Over The Garden Fence’ network gathering.

Mick is a village resident, one of H.E.L.P’s founding members and has worked very closely on the project throughout. He’s always enjoyed making wreaths at Christmas time and as expected, he really enjoyed the materiality of the willow and working closely with Sally on the project.

‘It’s been a pleasure working with Sally and everyone. I have really enjoyed it and I have been talking with the local pub and they are going to let us carry on doing willow sessions there. I have got a lot out of this and I want to give back so other people in the village can benefit from this too’.

We’re currently working with Mick and the H.E.L.P group to see how we can support this to happen.

Sally has since been learning how to basket weave and we were able to support her to attend a session to work with a seasoned willow artist to explore this new technique. Sally had this to say;

"I had a brilliant time on this project and learnt an awful lot. Working with the HELP team was really good fun and their positive attitude and vision made creating the willow dome and tunnel a really collaborative activity. They have an inspiring place that they have created and I am really proud to have been part of creating something for their community."

Chair of H.E.L.P and working party member Brian Stocks shared 'I’m proud of all of the projects throughout and this one has been really good, working with Sally, Andy and Platform Thirty1, what we’re doing and it’s legacy .. its good. We’re installing the fairy house soon, there’s lots more to do and we’ve come a long way’.

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