Gardening club started by tenants in sheltered housing, keeps boredom at bay and bodies active.
John Wycherly is in his seventies and lives in a flat as part of a sheltered housing scheme in Great Barr, north of Birmingham. Together with other residents there, he started a gardening club back in 2019.
The group of nine residents have made flower beds, containers for hanging flowers and organised bulb planting sessions.
Back in 2019, activities at the scheme were limited to coffee mornings and bingo nights. And while many residents joined, John, a former foreman at Staples, didn't find them appealing. He said:
"I started this group two years ago because I was bored and looking for something to do. Although there were coffee mornings and bingo organised, I didn't feel these activities were for me."
One day, John asked the scheme manager if she could support him with starting a new activity. She had talked to Ageing Better in Birmingham's Carers Hub and Christine Higgins who is the Network Enabler there.
Christine, who most know as 'Chris', support community groups to develop activities that can support older carers out of social isolation, and the scheme manager linked John up with her.
The two met at the housing scheme and started discussing the set up of a gardening club. John has always enjoyed gardening whenever he's had a garden. He explained that some of the residents he had talked to wanted bird's nests and bug hotels, but other residents objected, so the group settled on setting up a gardening club.
When John asked around, eight residents expressed an interest to take an active part in the gardening activities. And so it was that in the summer of 2019, the group applied for about £600 to the Ageing Better Fund to help them set it up. That year they made flower beds, used propagators and compost, grew lots of plants in containers and all of the other tenants really appreciated this. In the winter they did containers and bulbs for indoors use.
They started planning for the summer of 2020 when COVID-19 meant they could no longer meet up.
Chris said: "Over the next year the tenants all had a very difficult time. They could not meet up at all and were restricted to their flats. To make matters worse, several people died from the virus and there were more deaths in the housing scheme than usual."
Members kept in touch by phone and by meeting outside when conditions allowed. John made sure to call and check in with members.
Chris said: "I was unable to contact John during this time as I had the wrong phone number and he's not very confident using emails. I left messages for him, but didn't hear back. Then one day in April he rang me and I was so pleased to hear from him. We had a good chat and it turns out the group was struggling to get going again, and to reconnect members with each other during a time when it was so important they got back together."
The Ageing Better in Birmingham programme set up a micro-fund for community groups who had previously received support from the programme and who now wanted to get back together and meet in person.
Chris supported the the gardening club with their application and it wasn't long until they found out they had been successful for funding for seeds, shrub plants, fertiliser, compost and pots.
Chris said: "When I speak to John now, he sounds so much more upbeat. They have a plan to buy fruit trees and summer bedding! I look forward to visiting them in June."
John said: "Everyone feels as though they were under a cloud that is now lifting. We're beginning to look forward to the future again!"