The Knocknaheeny Hollyhill community garden has been described as a life saver by most of the people who use it.
It’s helped some of those who attend regularly pull themselves out of a dark place in their lives.
It’s managed by NICHE, the community health initiative, which is core funded and supported by the HSE Cork North Community Work Department, while additional funding and grants come from other agencies including Cork City Council.
Cookery workshops and a Men’s shed are just some of what happens at the garden, with the focus on ensuring those who attend live full and healthy lives.
Ger Moore, who’s from Churchfield but lives in Courtown Drive in Knocknaheeny, has been going to the community garden regularly for about a year and a half.
“I needed an out to go somewhere I could mix with other people because my wife died three years ago. After 40 years of marriage you get lost in between. When that hit I didn’t want to go out,” Ger said.
“Since I came I’m doing ok. It’s enjoyable. It’s a social occasion, meeting other people like myself who might have been in the same predicament. It gets me out of home,” he added.
He lists planting, grass-cutting and chopping wood as some of the jobs he undertakes at the garden, and believes he may not be here today if he didn’t have the outlet.
“I love it. It’s actually been a life saver. I went to a very dark place when all this happened. I don’t know where I would be only for it. When you go to a low ebb in your life it’s very hard to come out of it and try to stay out of it. Even if I’m in trouble I can talk about it, it’s better than being at home looking at four walls and having no one to talk to. I’d be lost without it,” Ger said.
“It was a life-changer because I didn’t think I’d be sitting here,” he added.
However, there’s plenty of banter between everyone attending, with Ger saying he’s nicknamed the ‘great-grandad’ because he has ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“It’s the banter. I believe everybody could do with a little bit of banter. There’s enough sadness there without making it any worse,” he says.
Another of the attendees - Robert Sheehan from Fairhill - says that he benefited hugely from a cookery course he took in the centre recently.
“Everything that we have here, we cook and eat. I look forward to that - taking the stuff out of the garden, coming in and cooking it,” he said.
Friendships he’s made have also improved his life greatly: “you have this family feeling with them all. We don’t just slag each other, we go away on trips, have meals together.
“I do a lot of travelling around in the summer in a camper. I take the lads down to the beach. every year. I cook breakfast for them every year down in Garretstown or places like that.
“We go down and collect seaweed for the garden. I take the camper down and we put on a big massive breakfast, and 15 of us inside in the camper, sitting down eating. That’s the fun of it. That’ll tell you how close we’ve gotten,” he laughs.
He credits his time in the community garden with his peace of mind: “It changed my life. Before this I was in a black hole, down deep. I couldn’t get out of it until I came up here. Meeting the lads every week it’s a great buzz. I look forward to getting out of bed and coming up here.
“If there’s anyone else out there who wants to come up, they should just walk in the gates. Anyone is welcome to come in and enjoy themselves,” he says.
Tony Sexton, who lives in Knocknaheeny but is originally from Faranree, says coming up to the garden is the one thing he can look forward to.
“I live on my own so I have nothing else to do. I’d be lost without it. All my old friends have gone from the past. I used to be drinking and things that time and since I was diagnosed with COPD I haven’t. I’ve made all new friends in the community here,” he told The Echo.
“Over the Christmas when it’s closed, I’ll have the whole seven days a week on my hands. I always find it lonely over Christmas because my parents passed away, and my sister passed away four years ago. I’m on my own, but I’m going to my nieces for Christmas, so I’ll just be home Christmas night,” he adds.
The community garden, under the guidance of NICHE manager Brian Kelleher, Community Healthcare Worker John Paul O’Brien and Community Gardener Sarah Carr, is the centre of the community.
Taking a walk around the garden, there’s a cob oven on display, as well as a giant polar bear constructed originally five years ago by an artist in resident, but it’s managed by the Men’s Shed. There’s also an outdoor cob oven which is mostly used during the summer to make pizzas, with toppings coming from the garden itself.
There’s also compost bins on site, which were constructed by the Men’s Shed. “If we need anything built we usually look towards the men. The compost bin for example, that’s a project we handed over to the men’s shed and they’ve been doing really well. But women come in and get their hands dirty as well,” Sarah said.
There are lots of fruits and vegetables grown in the garden. “We’ve still got a few brussels sprouts and kale and cabbage, beetroot and in the tunnel then we had sweetcorn this year, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs. We put it to the people in the garden as to what they would like to eat. We’ve garlic and onion at the minute. We try and use everything that we’ve grown in our cooking,” Sarah said.
“We’ve recently also planted a wildflower meadow. We sowed the seed in Autumn so in early spring it should come up with lots of native wildflowers for the biodiversity in the garden, but also it attracts pollinators to the garden which will help fertilise the crops,” she added.
Inside, there’s a multi-purpose room often used for art, as well as a large kitchen and workshop, where many of the tools are kept.
“Most of the tools are donated by the community. Niche has bought some, but we mainly rely on people bringing them in,” John Paul said.
“If anyone has old beds or anything like that we’ll take them apart and reuse them and anything that we don’t use we send them out to the community for firewood,” he added.
The programme co-ordinator Brian said that the interagency approach works well, with the main funding stream coming from the HSE, while the site and one of the polytunnels given by Cork City Council.
They also get grants from the LCDC. “The Men’s Shed grant they’ve been given it from central Government for the last three years through City Council. It’s invaluable,” he said.
“What we try to do is tailor the programmes towards a need - things people may not have done before but may need. We get a good feedback and response,” he added.