“We all know the importance of the natural environment to help us destress and unplug ourselves from the digital world. The pandemic certainly taught us all a thing or two about the value of being outside!

A few years ago, I started working as a volunteer on the small allotment at Westbank. Now I’m a full-time employee at the charity and overseeing the development of the outdoor space around our main building is among the many things I’m responsible for in my role. 

The existing allotment had become rather neglected, so it’s now been split into two distinct zones: a productive vegetable plot with raised beds, and a wildlife area that’s pretty much left to ‘do its own thing’. We’ve also focussed our limited resources on developing a small sensory garden, which was designed and planted by a professional landscape gardener last year and is maturing nicely this summer. Each of these outdoor spaces has a different character and purpose. 

At the heart of the wildlife garden, we’ve used sawn-off tree stumps to make a circular seating area. The fence and steps are made of old pallets and decking boards, we reused stones that were lying around for the pond, and we repurposed various bits of timber for a bug hotel and hedgehog house. This natural, unmanaged space has a cosy feeling, ideal for the young children from our Kidzone nursery to visit for story-telling sessions and bug hunts.  

The thinking behind the managed allotment is to grow food that we can use at our Cafe in Exminster village, with any surplus going to our Larder that supplies fresh produce people can help themselves to. Later in the year, after we’ve launched our community teaching kitchen onsite, we aim to use vegetables and herbs there too for our cookery classes. Waste not, want not is our mantra, so we also compost vegetable peelings from our kitchen to reduce food waste. Why throw it away when it can go back into the soil to produce more food? 

We developed the sensory garden to meet the needs of our day care service users. It has a wide pathway and a turning area suitable for wheelchair users. The plants are tactile and scented, and a little pond gently bubbles away. It’s not just our clients who enjoy this cheerful spot. There are wellbeing benefits for staff too as it’s a peaceful place for them to hang out for informal meetings or in their lunch break, particularly as there’s no staff room in the building. 

Lots of people have been involved in this collaborative garden project, including some of our volunteers and students from Oakwood Specialist College in Dawlish who made the wooden planters along the front of the building. It’s a year since we started work on the redesign, and the impact is noticeable. The site is softer, more welcoming, and much more colourful. We would love to get more local volunteers involved early next year to take responsibility for the next planting season.”

If you would like to volunteer for Westbank or support or donate to any of the services we provide, please have a look around our website some more www.westbank.org.ukhttps://www.westbank.org.uk/Pages/Category/volunteering-roles