Great British Garden Party brings community together
Great British Garden Party supporter, Wendy Brady, explains what motivated her to take part in the fundraising campaign and how she got the whole community involved – with lasting results.
‘I didn’t know much about the National Garden Scheme although I had subscribed to their newsletter, but at 7 am one morning I spotted a Facebook post promoting their fundraiser, the Great British Garden Party and immediately thought ‘I can do that!’ The last couple of years has been hard for so many of us, both on a personal and community level. I had lost my dad during the pandemic, my partner is recovering from cancer and I had taken early retirement. In our small rural village of 36 houses in Stonehaugh, Northumberland, we had felt cut off from society and isolated – as though we had lost our sense of community. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together on a positive note. So many of us have been helped at some point in our lives by the charities which the National Garden Scheme support – in my case Macmillan had provided us with invaluable support. To share tea and cake and raise money for these fantastic causes – what is not to love!
So I set to…
As I developed ideas and spoke with friends and neighbours the initiative grew – maybe, we could bring together not only our own community but the villages around us. We posted out 100 invitations and put posters on the local notice boards inviting people to join us for a minimum donation of £5. We were going to have unlimited tea and cake, there was going to be bunting and lots of children’s activities to keep everyone amused and it was not going to cost the earth.
I started to talk to neighbours and soon the whole community was on board. The local craft club, Create, learnt calligraphy and wrote the event signage, we painted stones with images of the local flowers found in and around our local Warksburn Woods for a treasure hunt and collected plastic waste that was converted by the children on the day into recycled bug houses. We approached a stall on Hexham market who donated seeds, compost and pots to encourage the whole community to start planting. Eight families lent their heritage china tea sets –passed down through the generations and all with a story to tell, everyone made cakes and people brought garden games. We had a plant sale and we contacted local businesses who enthusiastically donated raffle prizes – and we got our own families involved too! My son donated a car wash, we offered a lawn mowing – and were glad that the local campsite owners did not win that prize! A local resident from Wall donated 6 bottles of homemade elderflower champagne – and I was amazed to discover that she had also supplied it to a local Michelin starred restaurant! We downloaded the National Garden Scheme colouring sheets and garden quiz from their website, and a local company photocopied them free of charge so that everyone could take part – for a small donation, on the day.
The event was joyous!
The pandemic highlighted just how important people are to us and this brought us all back together after the isolation of COVID – and not just for the day. We were mindful that we wanted this to be just the start of bringing the community together: we offered, for a donation, the recipe for our late Grandma Hickling’s special fruit cake which we served on the day and plan on following up with a community baking day too. We found a local craftsperson who made crochet bumble bees, and for a small donation, children received their own bumble bee and pack of sunflower seeds to enter our sunflower competition. Children also had fun making bug dens with recycled plastic waste. Since the party, they have been telling me how tall their sunflowers are growing, and what bugs they have found in their bug houses.
Top tips for others thinking of holding an event
You can do it too! You don’t need to have lots of money to be able to do good for others, and you don’t need to do it alone. If your space is tiny, invite 2 people at a time for tea and cake and still help raise money for a good cause. And if you are doing something bigger – in our front and back garden of a little cottage in a small hamlet in the Northumberland National Park we welcomed people from across three counties, you don’t have to do it alone. It’s amazing how many people will get involved if you only ask, and sharing ideas and skillsets make it all so much fun. If you ask for a donation for everything then people give what they can afford – and are very generous. We raised an amazing £800 and I loved every minute of it!