It is only three months since the horticultural centre at Castlebank Park in Lanark was officially opened.
But it’s already proving a major success story for Lanark Community Development Trust.
Community is at the heart of the trust’s flagship project, built on the site of the park’s derelict tennis courts and sawmill buildings.
A pool of 20 volunteers regularly tend the centre’s fruit and vegetable gardens, growing produce for Clydesdale Food Bank.
In a unique partnership with Clydesdale Community Initiatives (CCI), the centre, Forth Eco Site and Larkhall Community Growers all cultivate food to help locals.
Melissa Reilly, the trust’s development manager, explained: “The CCI team co-ordinate all the pick-ups and getting it to the foodbank’s headquarters in Carluke.
“After speaking to the foodbank, we’re growing more root vegetables this year as they have a longer shelf life and can be easily used to make soup.
“So we’re growing onions, carrots, leeks, potatoes, parsnips and beetroots, as well as strawberries and tomatoes – all of which is donated to the foodbank.
“We already have a very dedicated team of volunteers who come to our open days on a Tuesday and Thursday but we’d be delighted to welcome even more people.
“Volunteers also help to maintain the park’s formal gardens so there’s always plenty to do. Extra pairs of hands are welcome here!”
Stuart Ritchie joined the team this week as the centre’s educational gardener. His post has been funded to the tune of £99,000 by the National Lottery Community Fund for three years.
Stuart will be on hand to oversee the centre’s many projects, with the aim of also running courses not only for school pupils but the wider community too.
Melissa said: “We’re in the process of applying to become accredited by the Royal Horticultural Society.
“That would allow Stuart to run accredited RHS courses, leading to formal horticulture qualifications.
“If we’re successful, the centre will be the only one outside of Edinburgh, Glasgow and universities to run accredited courses – so we’re keeping our fingers firmly crossed.”
The team is now gearing up for Lanark FlowerFest, run in association with Lanark in Bloom.
Last year’s inaugural event was such a success it will return from May 10 to 12.
Melissa said: “The event attracted more than 3000 people last year. That was amazing but we want to build on that and ensure this year’s festival is bigger and better.”
Lanark in Bloom, which tends to all the town’s floral displays, is also based at the horticultural centre and pots up all its hanging baskets and tubs there. So the centre is a hive of activity.
However, the trust is now hoping the wider community will start using its resources – with meeting rooms ideal for community groups and businesses to hire.
Melissa said: “We’ve been delighted with the response we’ve had since the centre opened on November 21.
“So it surprises us when people pop in and say they didn’t know we were here!
“We want to let the community know the meeting rooms are available and can be hired out for a wide variety of uses, including birthday parties and functions.
“Our volunteers regularly use them but many more local groups could too.”
While some locals have yet to cotton on to the centre, others have taken it to their heart.
John and David Dickman donated £1615 from their Sportsman’s Brunch to allow the centre to purchase a defibrillator. Last week, it became fully operational.
Melissa said: “I’m speaking to the ambulance service so they can add it to their list. If someone calls, they can be directed to our defibrillator which is now available for use, 24 hours a day.”
Melissa is also in talks with Alzheimer Scotland to launch a monthly event for those with dementia.
She added: “We want to offer the local branch the chance to come here and work on a variety of projects.
“It will be geared towards the individual’s own abilities so they can enjoy working in the gardens, but will also have companionship too.”
Now one of Scotland’s 71 Green Flag Parks, Castlebank has come a long way since the council closed the terraced gardens due to health and safety concerns.
More than a decade ago, a Gazette petition to save the park gathered more than 2000 names. One of the terraces is now open but the other two remain closed.
Melissa added: “The terrace retaining walls need work but it is something we are keen to do in the future.”
The trust secured more than £191,000 for the horticultural centre from the Leader Grant and Renewable Energy Fund, as well as almost £6000 from the Levenseat Trust to kit it out...so watch this space!
To find out more about the development trust and the centre, visit the website lanarktrust.co.uk.