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How The Green Backyard could be exactly what post-pandemic Peterborough needs

The Green Backyard may have been closed through each of the national lockdowns, but there's been a lot going on behind the scenes to get the community garden to a point where it can open safely.
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The Green Backyard plans to reopen with a full calendar for the rest of the year

Speaking to Peterborough Matters, trustees Charlotte Fionda and Ema Corcoran revealed how they've used the year of lockdown to their - and the green space's - advantage.

When everything had to lock down on March 23, 2020, there were a few things The Green Backyard had to work out. For one, what would they do with all the food grown that they'd been planning on selling?

"It went to the food bank," said Charlotte, listing the various fruit and vegetables the community project was able to share. Courgettes, rhubarb, leeks, plums, carrots - without the shop open nobody wanted to see the surplus go to waste. "We had a few people enquire about being able to continue to buy things through lockdown, but we just didn't have the structure in place to do anything online."

Otherwise, the phrase used to describe how lockdown impacted the project was "things stood still". Events, workshops, plans that had been put in place for improving the space all came to a halt.

Established in 2009, The Green Backyard is a community growing project right in the heart of the city centre. A once derelict former allotment site right near Town Bridge has been transformed, with the help of a number of organisations and volunteers, into a community garden that is open to everyone.

The trustees promote sustainability, nature, looking after the environment, all while providing a space that can be used by individuals, families, schools and businesses to enjoy the great outdoors - even in the middle of such urban surroundings.

Being brought to a standstill by the pandemic was a shock to the system, then, and various restrictions in place over the past year have led to challenges that the team may not have been prepared for - but faced head on.

"The site got wild in lockdown," said Ema. "When the snow came we knew we had to go in and tackle it. We posted on Facebook for some volunteers - people that would be happy to come and help us clear the area, with Covid-safe restrictions in place, of course - and have been down there in shifts most days since."

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Help from local organisations soon followed. The Co-op provided funding for Tippy taps, handwashing stations operated by a foot lever, making them sustainable and Covid-19 safe.

BGL funded a polytunnel, a tunnel that enables growers to cover their plants to shelter them from heat, cold, rain, wind and strong sunlight. A team of five volunteers from Mee Blueberries, growers of (you guessed it) blueberries in Nassington, came down to help erect it on the site.

Peterborough Environment City Trust offered its services to plant some more trees and hedges, particularly at the entrance to The Green Backyard. Notcutts supplied raspberry bushes for a new space designated for a bee garden.

Ema continued: "We've created a new market garden space and have a new grower, and an online ordering service is on the way - but also supply local restaurants with food grown hyper-locally. We'll have a new bee garden, having increased our hive numbers, because space where bees can flourish is so important to the environment.

"And as people came to help us clear those spaces in preparation for those new installations, we got to talking and heard all about skills that people want to come and teach here. From willow weaving to crochet, the engagement opportunities we can create from volunteers is, as ever, one of our strengths here."

This is the plan for Charlotte and Ema and the other trustees. It's been a difficult year for the project - as it has for so many organisations - but the jewels in the crown of The Green Backyard are its volunteers.

Add in the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has made people think a little more locally - in terms of what they eat, what they buy, where they choose for their days out - and it could be that this project will thrive as lockdown lifts.

"I'm really excited," said Charlotte. "We can be, once again, a vibrant community base. We can be a safe space for people, while there's still uncertainty for people. There are a lot of flats around the area of the backyard, and we offer them a chance to come into an outdoor space and not only enjoy it but learn from it, get involved with it."

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Ema agreed, adding that people of all ages have been volunteering to get the space back to its pre-pandemic glory. "We want volunteers to come and enjoy the space. I miss our day dot people - I want them to come back - and I want to meet new faces. And people don't have to want to do something big. Someone who just wants to get out of the house for half an hour can come down and help us weed, little tasks like that. All abilities and ages are so, so welcome."

Our conversation hinted at bigger things to come for the project - larger events, art installations, a sensory garden - and the excitement is infectious.

"One of the things that was always said about The Green Backyard was that people loved the space, but they loved the social side of it. Somewhere they could come and meet people, relax, chill," Charlotte acknowledged. "We have plans - a very full calendar, in fact - but it's not shaped by us trustees, it's shaped by the volunteers and visitors. It's shaped by what they want, need and can offer."

And, after a year where Peterborough residents have been locked down, that sort of freedom might be just what so many of us need.

The Green Backyard is always looking for new volunteers - follow the project on Facebook to find out more.