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Princess Diana Gardens spread happiness but need more help

WORK on the Princess Diana Gardens in Ely has begun and is benefitting volunteers mentally and physically, as they work together to turn the garden around.

Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE) began weekly gardening sessions last year during which volunteers work together to turn the dumpsite back into a community space for families.

It was reopened in September last year for the first time in decades after being gated up because of fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

It is now 30 years since the garden, which is just off Hiles Road, was opened by the Princess herself, in July 1993.

But the project isn’t just about turning the garden back into an important community area, it is giving volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills and make friends.

Sue Ansell and Raj Gill in the Princess Diana Gardens.

Frankie, 56, from Llanishen, has been volunteering for the project since the beginning and has found it really helps her mental health.

She said: “I have had an awful lot of severe trauma. It’s about community, you do physical activity and it reduces isolation.

“This is my new family. I have found wonderful, like-minded people and we have welded together.

“It is refreshing and stimulating. There are lots of challenges and opportunities to give it a go. In terms of mental health, creating this garden and seeing the success is instant positive feedback. It brings happiness.”

Raj Gill, 45, from Heol Carnau, is also a regular volunteer. He said: “It’s about community spirit and cohesion. Working with nature builds confidence, you’re learning skills and making friends.”

Mr Gill has even tackled his fear of machinery after getting his qualification to use strimmers in order to cut back the masses of brambles in the garden

“This gets people out of their comfort zone. It’s a good way to de-stress, meet new people and is proved to benefit mental health. It is empowerment and joy.” Mr Gill said.

There is still a lot of work to do clearing out all the rubbish and fly-tipping.

Plans for the garden involve building natural play equipment, like a mud kitchen, reinstating a path for prams and wheelchairs to move around as well as a planting a variety of plants, trees and growing fruit and vegetables.

Sue Ansell, 39, who leads the project and volunteers for ACE, said: “I think it looked like a very big job that was quite daunting to a lot of people, because it was just brambles as far as the eye could see. And beyond that, a big pile of fly tipping.

“Over last year and half we have found wild flowers, frogs, toads, slow worms, birds, cool bugs and butterflies. Because it was shut for twenty years, wildlife moved in and we don’t want them to move out again.”

“We are hoping to really blitz it and clear out the rubbish so it’s a safer place for people to come to, which means more events.”

Ms Ansell has also seen the how beneficial the weekly workshops have become to volunteers: “No one asks any questions, you know, it’s like ‘Oh you’re here to help? Great! Do this! Have a go at this and see how you get on’.

Some raised planters have already been installed in the garden.

“I think people like that they can come and see what they’ve done, see what they’ve achieved.”

The project has received funding from Tesco Bags of Help and the People’s Postcode Trust which allowed them to purchase a container and tools.

ACE is waiting to hear back from a funding bid put in from the Landfill Disposal Tax Community Fund for around £45,000, which would fund a part-time project officer for two years, with support from Keep Wales Tidy.

The aim is to get to a point where the site is managed by and for the community and wildlife, with it being regularly open for public use and use by local groups.

  • If you are interested in getting involved, volunteering sessions run every Thursday from 2pm to 4pm.
  • There are also clear-up sessions on March 4 and 15 with Innovate Trust.
  • Contact suea@aceplace.org for more information or if you are interested in helping the project.
  • Check out the Facebook page here.
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