A former wasteland is now providing a deprived community with fresh veg and eggs thanks to one man’s vision.
Teaching assistant Andrew James’ determination to transform the site of a former housing estate in Caerau, Maesteg , has led to the development of a community garden and a growing band of green-fingered volunteers.
In just two years, he has established the Caerau Community Growers and a working garden with the help of volunteers, local businesses, Caerau Development Trust and Bridgend Communities First .
It even has a wildlife pond and viewing platform, several raised vegetable beds for local schools and nurseries to grow their own produce and a chicken coop which houses more than a dozen chickens.
Andrew, who works at Caerau Primary School, said: “I’m proud of my community and of course it’s sad when you see it decline and see people struggling to find work.
“My father Ronnie and his father before him used to work at Caerau Colliery, which closed almost 40 years ago.
“Walking, I’d often think about the past, the former collieries which have long-since been reclaimed by the land. Although sad, that connection with the past made me feel strong and determined to do something for my community.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about this redundant piece of land that was just lying there waiting for someone to do something with it.”
Some of the volunteers from 26 businesses who built the pond on the Give and Gain day in May 2015.
In 2012, an organisation moved in with a view to turning the bramble-ridden wasteland into allotments, but the project soon ended. The foundations for what Andrew describes as a “life-changing experience” were finally laid in 2014 with the establishment of Caerau Community Growers under Andrew’s stewardship.
Having worked at his first allotment with his dad at the age of 10, he was now ready for the challenge of transforming the neglected wasteland into a working community garden.
Andrew’s efforts have been rewarded
His commitment to his newly-found cause however did not go unnoticed. Whilst most people headed home at the end of the working day, Andrew picked up a shovel and headed to the garden.
His efforts galvanised an entire army of volunteers – 45 at the last count – and attracted the attention of Bridgend Communities First, the Welsh Government funded organisation charged with lifting people out of poverty and tackling social exclusion.
In May 2015 the community garden took another big step forward when Communities First organised a Give and Gain day which saw 26 businesses, supported by Egnida and community members, give up their time and resources to build the wildlife pond.
In March, Andrew’s efforts were recognised with a Citizenship Award from the Mayor of Bridgend County Borough Council Richard Young.