A church community garden is providing a multitude of benefits on one of the Diocese’s most deprived estates.

When the Revd Pete Wheeler joined St Peter’s, Quarrendon, he began using the Appreciative Inquiry model. (AI). AI encourages churches to discover and build on what was positive and perhaps already working. It is the method at the heart of our Parish Planning Tool.

Now, two-and-a-half years later, the land around St Peter’s has been transformed into a haven for the community. People learn gardening skills, are helped back into employment and receive treatment for mental health problems there. It’s a social space encouraging neighbourly-ness and company for the lonely. St Peter’s has an Eco Church Bronze Award and is working towards Silver.

The icing on the cake – a £5,500 summer house funded by a Diocesan Development Fund  grant, was being installed this month, ready for a harvest celebration on September 27.

Reflecting on the development of the garden, Pete says: “I was switched on to AI as a way of bringing about transformation and change by looking at what the great things are about this place.” Aside from the garden project, the congregation of the church has grown from around nine people to 70 each Sunday, with an estimated 60% having no prior experience of church.

“It’s a small building with two rooms, the lounge (formerly the vestry) and the main church worship space. It’s barely fit for purpose, but it’s on a large plot of land,” says Pete. With no graves/memorials, there was just grass, tarmac and a small car park on that land. As the congregation grew, the church started to think more about the possibility of a community garden.

Enter Dave Furze, a new church member who runs Community Grow. The charity enables and teaches communities about gardening and healthy eating while giving children a chance to learn about food. Dave also offers green exercise through gardening, which is linked to better mental and physical health. “I’d like to thank Dave for his immense input,” says Pete.

The church partnered with Aylesbury Garden Town, to launch the garden in July 2019.

As we spoke, Pete was preparing for a busy Saturday with a team building the summer house, which will be an extra meeting space for the church and a place where people can meet during breaks from gardening. “There’ll be sheltered seating too. It’ll be used by older, isolated people who may not be able to do any gardening but want to come and be sociable.”

A barbecue event, initially planned for Harvest this year, has been postponed due to the latest Government guidelines on gatherings as a result of COVID-19 and will hopefully take place in spring 2021.

This story is filled with anecdotes to inspire churches across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Milton Keynes. Want to read more about innovative schemes in our  parishes? Check out Pathways Live.