The sensory garden at the Palace Demesne in Armagh is in line for a make-over.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has agreed to an external proposal to regenerate the facility for the benefit of the local community.
The scheme, which is Lottery supported, could also bring on board local school children to help with the project.
A Friends of the Palace Park group could be established in the long term and other avenues of funding explored.
Work will include the reintroduction of native shrubs, flowers, fruit and vegetables to enhance the aesthetics and biodiversity.
The project, council has been told, has a range of benefits in terms of social, educational, health and wellbeing and environmental.
The proposal was brought forward by REACH (Regenerating Environments and Community Health Partnership), in partnership with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).
In the medium-term, TCV envisage establishing a core group of ‘Palace Stables Community Gardeners’, who will assume a greater level of responsibility for the sensory garden.
Support will be sought from community development staff within council and the Southern Health Trust to enable this group to develop capacity. Parallel to this, TCV will connect and support people living in the community with health and wellbeing needs through the provision of structured activity sessions, tailored to their ability and needs.
In the long-term, the council has been told the site offers multiple opportunities to become a self-sustaining community project.
TCV see “strong potential through a partnership approach to develop a much bigger community lead project, to include incorporating formal training, establish Friends of Palace Park, Community Environmental events etc”.
TCV has said it will strive to deliver a raft of environmental, health and well-being, social and educational benefits, all of which will contribute towards an increased sense of ownership of the sensory garden within the local community.
The sensory garden would be regenerated into a community space for pleasure, relaxation and reflection for all.
In terms of health and wellbeing, it is intended to have a programme of supported conservation activities where local people can get involved in the practical improvement of the garden, increasing their physical activity levels without realising they are doing so.
Gardening, it is widely recognised, provides a work out for the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can improve strength, endurance and flexibility, helping to prevent problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. In addition, physical exercise releases endorphins, which help to alleviate stress and its negative results.
Studies have shown that simply spending time in a garden can help lower blood pressure.
There is also a strong social element to the task, where people come together to work on a common cause, connecting and building bonds as they focus on the neutral goal. Gardening can also help with the development of social and intellectual skills, including those needed for social inclusion or rehabilitation.
In addition, TCV will incorporate practical skill development, environmental understanding and knowledge to increase community capacity, equipping the local community to take full ownership of the garden space.
It will link the Palace Stables Community Gardeners to an internal training unit, offering accredited training as and when appropriate. This training can also be offered to Palace Park staff as appropriate.
TCV says it will build on the existing partnership working through REACH and the Public Health Agency and use its experience and expertise to lead the project, working in partnership with a combination of statutory and community organisations to ensure the sensory garden is fully utilised as an inclusive community resource.
As well as the planting which is planned, a polytunnel structure adjacent to the garden would be used as an indoor work space and training area.
There is the potential then to transfer skills learned into smaller community sites; the Community Gardeners would be able to construct and plant up planters collectively as part of the project and transfer these to ‘gateway sites’ within their own communities.
It would eventually be intended to form a ‘Friends of the Palace Park’ as an independent community group to be able to seek funding and further resource to use the sensory garden for the health benefit of the community.
SF Councillor Gemma McKenna asked if there were any plans to work with schools, in particular special schools, in the area and was told this could be implemented into the proposal.
On the proposal of Councillor McKenna, seconded by DUP Councillor Gareth Wilson, it was agreed to approve the proposal, subject to a Service Level Agreement.
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