Restoration of historic glasshouse grows into horticultural training programme

An ambitious project to transform an old lean-to glasshouse into a 21st century glasshouse and centre for horticultural training has just been completed at Tilgate Park in Crawley.

Already, five local unemployed people have begun training and there are plans to offer further horticulture-based traineeships from September.

At the same time, produce being grown in the glasshouse goes straight to the Walled Garden Community Café next door, giving visitors the chance to taste the freshest possible salads and vegetables.

The work, undertaken by environmental charity Groundwork South and funded with £26,500 from Grundon Waste Management through the Landfill Communities Fund, was completed earlier this year and the official opening took place on Monday, August 8.

Councillor Raj Sharma, Mayor of Crawley officially opens the newly refurbished glasshouse at Tilgate Park, accompanied by his grandchildren and Andrew Short, Grundon’s Estates Director

Fran Corney from Groundwork South said: “The refurbished glasshouse is being used as a training resource for local people and is also somewhere for isolated older people to meet and do something practical together. The glasshouse is also a brilliant springboard to teach school groups and the general public about where our food comes from and to promote a healthy and affordable diet to park visitors.

“It has been incredibly exciting to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition and we’re extremely grateful to Grundon for funding the project.”

Among those attending the open day event were some of the trainees, together with local Jobcentre and training organisations, and Grundon’s Estates Director, Andrew Short, and Marketing & Communications Manager, Anthony Foxlee-Brown.

Speaking afterwards, Andrew said: “We were delighted support such an innovative and community-focused project.

“Given that the glasshouse is in the former kitchen garden for the Tilgate Estate, in many ways this could be seen as the ultimate in recycling. Groundwork South’s project has given life back to a glasshouse which, in years gone by, would have made a major contribution to putting food on the table of those who lived on the estate.

“To have seen it rise again and be used to provide food for the café is a fabulous idea and we hope it will be enjoyed for years to come by Crawley residents both young and old.”

During the event, the glasshouse was open to the public, and Fran and her colleagues arranged tasting dishes in the café showcasing the different produce being grown.

The renovation work came as part of Groundwork South’s mission to improve people’s lives through local places.

The glasshouse had been largely unused since the 1950s and the restoration programme included new glass panels, repair of existing brickwork, the installation of an irrigation system, potting benches, shading and raised beds and other equipment. Education boards have also been installed to let people know what’s growing inside.

The restoration of the glasshouse included new glass panels, repair of existing brickwork, the installation of an irrigation system, potting benches, shading and raised beds and other equipment

This autumn, traineeships in horticulture and ‘plot-to-plate’, growing produce and preparing it for consumption, will be targeted at local unemployed people to give them qualifications and an alternative route to a career in horticulture, as well as improved prospects for future employment.

Five local unemployed people have already successfully passed an Entry Level qualification in Horticulture and progressed onto Level 1, with several now volunteering at the project.

Among the plants already on the café menu are cucumbers, salads and tomatoes, while Fran also hopes to be able to grow heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Both the Walled Café and the glasshouse are leased by Groundwork South from Tilgate Park owners Crawley Borough Council, which has supported the project

Originally part of a sprawling country estate, today Tilgate Park boasts acres of parkland and superb lakes, a nature centre and a play area, all of which combine into an award-winning public amenity that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the south east of England every year.

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