Jemma & Paddy, Volunteer Gardeners – Volunteers’ Week 2023

A community garden which became a refuge during COVID is flourishing as a peaceful haven for all.

Volunteers Jemma and Paddy Cain began using Cricketfields Community Garden in Torquay when lockdown meant their options to get out and about with their young autistic daughter were severely curtailed.

“We were all going a bit stir crazy,” said 36-year-old Jemma, “and coming here was one of the few safe options for us and we loved it,” she added.

In fact, they loved it so much, they began helping out gardening and maintaining the grounds as they developed and now help coordinate other volunteer efforts throughout the week.

“From our first visits during COVID, we never really left,” said Paddy, “and now we are here quite a few times a week; it is a great way of meeting people and there is something to do all year round.”

As Cricketfields has developed as a community garden under the watchful eye of Hele, Barton, and Watcombe Community Builder, Dan Best, new projects have been added and now include an area of fruit trees called Merry Berry, a tree nursery, a memorial area, a sensory garden, and play are shared with Play Torbay.

A conservatory is about to be added to the potting shed and a new polytunnel is being installed any day now, “there is always work to be done,” said Jemma, who along with the other volunteers encourages the community to get involved.

“We have a lot of school visits, and the children love it. There is always something going on,” she added.

An honesty shop at the entrance is filled with fresh seasonal produce every day and now they are taking the lead from the community in adding fruits and veg suggested by them.

“Not everyone can afford to pay full price for their veg,” said Paddy, 31, “But that is okay, they pay what they can when they can. Last year we had a homeless man living in his car who at first couldn’t afford anything but kept coming back with a few pence each time because he felt he should pay something,”

When there is a glut, then the volunteers rally around and organise a community event to use it up like during the berry harvest, someone will come up with jam-making sessions and cream teas.

For Jemma, volunteering gives a purpose: “It gives me gratification that I am doing something meaningful and like so many things Cricketfields would not exist if it were not for the volunteers. It is a community asset.”

Paddy tells a similar story: “I enjoy volunteering; it gives something back. I used to run a charity shop and often reminded the paid managers that they would not be able to carry out their work or get paid themselves without the efforts of the volunteers; they achieve so much in charities across the Bay.”