Higher Ground for all . . .

The Higher Ground site on the old First School grounds

I was right about the provenance of the name of this exciting Social Enterprise (it comes from a song) — just wrong about which one! Not Joe Cocker’s ‘Lord lift us up where we belong’ from ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’; not the old hymn ‘Lord plant my feet on higher ground’. No, it was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ that inspired the name with which Project Manager Jane Pryde and Garden Manager Sam Coulson are enthusiastically building a completely secular, all-embracing community well-being and mental health Higher Ground for all.

Starting with adults, first off though, the team are developing at least 5 separate strands to their business model: sale of garden produce in season; drop-in centre for folks interested in gardening; workshops on specific gardening topics (like the upcoming one in March on apple tree grafting); referrals from community health and social services; fund-raising events. This team has had enough enthusiasm to get them through at least a couple of years of frustrating experiences on their way to seeing their hearts’ dream come to fruition, and they’re still bubbling over, in the dead of winter, while little sprouts of hope spring up in the 15m long polytunnel.

Little seedling sprout within the capacious surrounds of the 15m long polytunnel

Kicking off with a grand leap of faith, and 121 tons of compost to acquire and spread over the new beds, in addition to the capital expense of polytunnel and Sam’s beloved shed, and contributing enormous labour and volunteer effort to get the old Medway block (Jane remembers English classes there as a school girl) renovated into a social area, an office, fully accessible toilets, and a classroom space, it looks like the little team scarcely stop for a rest! Just now they’re hoping to be considered for a grant for a portable heating plant that could warm the place up quickly . . . [brrr, it was cold chatting there yesterday afternoon, but my heart warmed up the rest of me as I listened to the enthusiasm pouring out].

The grounds of the old First School were acquired as a community asset from the county by Allen Valleys Enterprise Ltd, which shares an office at Allendale Village Hall with the North Pennines AONB Landscape Partnership (who helped to expedite the transfer), so that now AVEL acts as titular landlord for the Higher Ground social enterprise. Higher Ground is managed by a board of volunteer directors, and the group’s full and comprehensive brief is described so very well on their very lovely website.

Later this year, Jane and Sam hope that the Youth Project (which brings its own insurance specific to youth involvement) can become involved in a garden workshop or session. Already with other volunteer help, Higher Ground has also renovated the circular outdoor session area in front of the Medway, which I remember being put in during our son’s time at First School, some twenty-five years ago now.

Jane toured me through the herb gardens, the very friendly-feeling outdoor seating area, the picnic area beside the public footpath which many folks are using as a shortcut from Shilburn to Leadgate, the anticipated wildlife section, the nursery area, the little orchard. It was a wonderful experience, really, even through the dusting of snow and the semi-frozen ground, to see the plans bursting forth.

And because the logo of Higher Ground looks so much like those newly emerging seedlings, I can’t resist featuring a photograph of the renovated Medway front, which looks so welcoming to visitors.

The entrance to Higher Ground’s office/classroom space in the Medway Block

My mother always told me that mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and with that metaphor in mind, I’m pretty confident that some mighty sturdy individuals, ultimately a veritable forest of healthy folks, will emerge thanks to this social enterprise.

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