Can you help grow an ‘unloved’ field in Southwick into a community garden?

Alena Pettett with her husband Peter Wise and son Jamie, 11, at the land
Alena Pettett with her husband Peter Wise and son Jamie, 11, at the land

An ‘unloved’ field in Southwick which is frequently used as a bonfire site and dumping ground by flytippers could be transformed into a community garden, thanks to the efforts of one determined resident.

Alena Pettett, who has lived in The Gardens since 1996, has witnessed ‘all sorts’ of things dumped on the field behind her home over the years, including asbestos.

Alena has a big vision for the field

Alena has a big vision for the field

Alena, a train driver, said: “I was fed up with seeing it.”

The seed of an idea for an outdoor community project was formed.

Alena discovered that the land belonged to Southern Water, whose storm drain under the field means it cannot be built on.

She approached the company to find out whether it would be possible for her to rent the field.

After several months of negotiations, Alena finally signed the lease for the land in November.

She said it was a win-win for both Southern Water and the public.

She said: “They get someone who will look after it, I’m responsible for it.

“And it makes it more pleasant for the people living on the other side of the fence.”

Alena has been granted a license for grazing on part of the land, which measures a quarter of an acre, and plans to put pens in place for up to four pygmy goats who, as well as being like pets, will keep the grass short and help get rid of brambles and other vegetation.

She has also been in conversation with a beekeeper who hopes to put some hives at the site.

But to help her manage and make the most of the rest of the site, Alena is inviting members of the public to come forward with their ideas for the land, in what she has called The Garden Field Project.

“It’s too big for one person on their own really,” she said.

“It’s nice to do something community based and get some other people involved.”

Apart from planting trees, whose roots will affect the storm drain, the land could be used for ‘anything and everything’, she said, adding: “I’m not looking for free labour, I’m looking for people who are genuinely interested in having something to do.”

She had suggested the space could be used for community gardens or an allotment. Alena, who also keeps chickens, has had her own allotment for many years and said: “It’s a nice little community there. It’s really relaxing.”

As Alena is not permitted to sublet the land behind The Gardens, it is free for people to use.

She has already offered it out to the charity Help for Heroes, which supports wounded British servicemen and women, as a possible rehabilitation activity.

And after recently undertaking awareness training at work, Alena said getting involved with the project could help people who are struggling with their mental health. “For people with anxiety and depression, sometimes a bit of outdoors time can help make you happier,” she said.

But before her vision can be realised, there is a lot work to do on the field, which she said is still looking ‘unloved’.

“It’s still bumpy and full of weeds,” she said. “I’m still digging up odd random things, odd bottles and bits of broken glass.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to clear it.”

Anyone interested in getting involved, contact Alena through the The Gardens Field Project page on Facebook.

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