From peculiar to positively blooming – a railway garden transformed

Local residents and councillors celebrated the completion of the first phase of a project that is transforming a neglected and unused piece of land into a hub for their rural community. It’s been a journey of discovery drawing on resilience, hard work and determination. Find out more about this inspiring RHS grant recipient’s story…

The entrance to the community allotment and garden

Creating a railway garden

In October 2021, Ramsgreave Parish Council took on, in the words of Kathryn Berzins, local resident and Chair of the Council, “a peculiar, odd-shaped piece of land by the railway line” in rural Ramsgreave, Lancashire.

“Ramsgreave is a small parish near Blackburn that doesn’t have a pub or a park. A misconception is that because it is a rural community people have access to green space when most of the houses have small gardens. There are walks and footpaths, but they aren’t accessible to all. There was nowhere to go and feel part of something, no focal point for the community,” says Kathryn.

The former allotment was overgrown with thick brambles, and had lain unused for many years. “At 80 metres long and 3 metres wide at one end and 7 metres wide at the other, it was a plot that former landowners Network Rail had no use for,” says Kathryn.

The Council leased the land and work began on restoring the allotment and creating a garden that is accessible for everyone.

“People in the local community were sad that it was in such a state of neglect but individually felt helpless to do anything about it. That’s when the Council stepped in. Collectively we felt that we could do something.”

Lindsay Wright, Vice Chair of the Council
A group of young people planting bulbs

Bringing people together

From the word go, work to transform the site brought people together. Some volunteers loaned tools, others gave their time or labour. They cleared brambles and large amounts of rubble and worked to make the site safe. The group took professional advice on where to position key features such as a shed and polytunnel.

“Volunteers were under no obligation to work for a set amount of time, which worked well in terms of drumming up support for the work. If someone could only spare an hour, then that was fine – there was no pressure,” says Kathryn.

The new patio being laid in the community garden

Applying for the grant

2022’s extreme weather triggered the Council to apply for an RHS Sustainable Futures Grant. Volunteers working at the site had nowhere to escape the sun and this was deterring them from completing the work.

The application was successful and in January 2023, Ramsgreave Parish Council received an RHS grant, to help them address the environmental challenges, which many groups are facing around the UK. The money funded the construction of a patio area and a sail structure to provide shade in the summer and protection from the rain.

“The new patio gives us a space where we can congregate and socialise after all the hard work is done. The shade is particularly appreciated by members of our community too, to escape the sun on hot days.”

Louise, local resident
A patio and picnic bench have been added to encourage socialising

Making an accessible garden

This carefully thought-out space is now much more accessible. The modifications have included the installation of a wheelchair-accessible picnic bench in this area, and the addition of high planters for both children and wheelchair users. These tabletop planters mean that those who can’t bend down can still get involved.

With the remaining money, the group are building a log cabin at the bottom of the garden. The hope is that people will sit here and enjoy the wildlife, take in the countryside views and listen to the birds.

The group are respectful in terms of wildlife and aim to ensure that the allotment thrives alongside nature. They don’t use chemicals or peat and plant for wildlife and pollinators. Bird boxes have been installed and there’s some evidence of dormice. The group dream of one day making the garden an official hedgehog release site.

The installation of the sail, patio and picnic benchmarks the end of the first phase of this project. Future plans include the creation of a wildlife pond and the addition of a composting toilet.

“We’ve taken things one step at a time and are learning as we go. It’s taken a lot of time and dedication to get to where we are. It’s not perfect – there’s still a scruffy area that will stay – but the space is becoming the community hub we hoped it would be.”

Kathryn Berzins, local resident and Chair of the Council
The newly transformed railway garden

A place for people to enjoy

Every Sunday, there is a drop-in afternoon where people come and help out or sit and have a chat.

“It’s such a peaceful place to sit and have a rest, have a tea break. It’s the first thing you see as you come up the path, it makes you want to sit down and enjoy the view,” says Mary, local resident.

Perhaps there is an unused piece of land in your community. Why not find out who owns it? Could your community bring it back to life? If this article has inspired you, let us know.

Sign up to our monthly newsletters for information on our upcoming grants.

“There is a real sense of pride and ownership. Seeing volunteers working on the allotment or friends meeting here or people taking time out to enjoy the surroundings is fantastic. We’ve come so far.”

Lindsay Wright, Vice Chair of the Council

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.