Community digs in for Whickham Hermitage Community Garden

A FAMILY’S affection for a community garden on Tyneside has provided a boost for what has become a village haven.

A FAMILY’S affection for a community garden on Tyneside has provided a boost for what has become a village haven.

Ten years ago Dave Peacock made the first move to reclaim the derelict land behind Whickham community centre in Gateshead which had once been the Oriental-style garden of a wealthy businessman.

The garden was attached to The Hermitage, a house built in 1790 by Matthew Taylor. The Taylors owned wherries and keel boats on the Tyne and in 1765, they established a brewery in Swalwell and the Hermitage garden was laid out during the early 19th Century.

After years of restoration work, the new Whickham Hermitage Community Garden off Front Street was opened in 2006 and has thrived ever since. The one-acre plot has won bloom awards and earned retired Mr Peacock an MBE.

Now Gateshead Council has given planning approval for a cafe in the style of an orangery which will mean the garden can be a community focus throughout the year.

The cafe project won a grant of £5,600 from the Lottery Awards for All scheme, but local businessman Ian Watson has stepped in to fund the rest of the £50,000 cost. Mr Watson’s mother Hazel is president of the Hermitage Garden and also chair of the management committee of the adjacent community centre, with which she has been involved for 40 years.

Mr Watson, who grew up and still lives in Whickham, is chair of Hadrian Healthcare Group, which has nine residential nursing and care centres for the elderly.

He said: “We’re absolutely delighted the cafe can now go ahead. It’s a much-needed facility for local people.

“As well as encouraging more visitors to enjoy and support the garden all through the year, it can be used by community groups for events outside garden’s opening times.”

Mr Watson has already gifted a bridge near the garden’s wildlife pond in memory of his father Ken, who was a keen gardener.

The garden features a recreation of its original watch tower, a summer house which serves as a picture gallery for historical views of the area, the pond, greenhouses, trees and flower and vegetable beds, which are used by local schoolchildren.

Mr Peacock said: “The new cafe will help secure the future of the garden as the proceeds from sales and events will go straight back into its upkeep, for the benefit of local people, and we won’t have to go on bended knee for funding in the future.

“There were times when I thought we weren’t going to pull the garden project off but everything we dreamed of has happened and the Watson family have been a tremendous help.”

The garden is open free to visitors 10am to 4pm daily.

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