It would be fair to stay that the story of the Patchworking Academy has been a bit patchy at times. In the beginning it was hoped that it would be a relatively straightforward project, although everyone realised it would require determination and commitment not to mention organisation and funding. The principle was simple enough – supported volunteers at the Patchworking Garden could apply to do a fully-funded and professionally supervised City and Guilds course to give them a horticultural qualification and the prospect of paid employment.
The whole premise of the Patchworking Garden is to support and give encouragement to those who for various reasons need that extra boost. For a garden charity, a horticultural qualification would be ideal; students by definition had an interest and commitment to gardening and it was recognised that there are many job opportunities in horticulture – whether working in nurseries, in garden centres or privately as a gardener.
The idea was first mooted by Carmel O’Shea (PGP founder) and Chris Munford (trustee). By 2018 the Patchworking Garden Project (PGP) had been operating for three years and the trustees were considering how to extend the project in a positive way. When a local landowner in Ockley offered part of his garden to be used for educational purposes Carmel and the trustees realised that here was a great opportunity.
As the Education Manager at HMP Send, Chris Munford knew the horticultural tutors at the prison – Carol Sales and Fred Gabellec – and asked if they could establish a City & Guilds horticultural course which would be appropriate for the Patchworking learners.
Funding was needed of course, and successful applications were made to charities and organisations in the area including Mole Valley Community Fund, the Rotary Club, the National Lottery, Surrey Community Foundation and the Henry Smith Charity.
By the beginning of September 2019 the project was up and running. Eight PGP students were accepted for the course and a further four support volunteers offered to attend each session.
Then in March 2020 came the pandemic and everything ground to a halt. By the time the country and Garden were in a position to re-open, it was decided to bring the project home to the Garden itself in Pixham. With the permission of the landlord (at that time Avivia) a 10m strip of land outside the walled garden was allocated with each student having their own plot to cultivate.
It wasn’t plain sailing after this – the ground needed to be rotavated, paths laid, a fence erected and in the long term the old lean-to restored to make a classroom/workshop.
Thanks though to the help from PGP volunteers and from supporters in the wider community and with continuing generous funding from local bodies, the Academy re-started in September 2020 a hiatus of nearly six months.
The Academy runs two days a week Mondays and Tuesdays. There are currently nine students – seven working towards their two-year Diploma and two new students undertaking the one-year certificate.
Comments from the assessors, tutors and students are consistently positive and the PGP is confident that the future is rosy.