Lewis Mottram has been a volunteer at the Riverside Community Garden Project for around 12 years
Lewis Mottram at the Riverside Community Garden Project

Volunteer garden to get solar panels in renewable energy project

The group was hit by two break-ins over the summer, so the financial help is very welcome

RIVERSIDE Community Garden Project is hoping to become entirely reliant on renewable energy, thanks to a project with universities in Cardiff and Egypt.

The project, set up by Dr John McCrory, of Cardiff University, and Dr Ahmed Hesham Abdulaziz, of Ain Shams University, is funded by the British Council.

It aims to bring renewable energy to off-grid community groups, in this case by installing solar panels to power objects such as lights, kettles and gardening tools.

“Sustainability is very important to us. We’re completely off the grid,” said Tony Allsop who began volunteering at the Riverside project four years ago.

About 18 months ago, Mr Allsop was employed by Grow Cardiff — a registered charity supporting community gardens across Cardiff.

Tony Allsop of Grow Cardiff began volunteering four years ago before being employed by the charity around a year and a half ago

The garden, on a Pontcanna allotment, is completely organic and uses nets instead of pesticides to protect the produce.

Volunteers grow a variety of fruit and vegetables throughout the year and can take them home in return for a small donation.

The group pays £350 a year in rent for the allotment so financial help is essential to help them stay afloat.

The garden has also received funding from the National Lottery and support from organisations such as Savills and Welsh Water through group visits.

The Riverside Community Garden Project’s office located in Pontcanna

The group has faced financial challenges over the last few years. There were two break-ins over the summer and donations dried up while the allotment was closed during lockdown.

The garden’s savings had to be used to pay the rent leaving them “drained dry”, according to Mr Allsop.

However, Mr Allsop said that since the pandemic it has become clear how the project benefits the volunteers’ mental health and confidence.

“It’s nice meeting people who haven’t been well, shy people and seeing them become much more self-assured. It really helps build their confidence. It doesn’t feel like work,” he said.

Lewis Mottram began volunteering at the garden around 12 years ago following early retirement.

He was initially disappointed when volunteering work was found for him at the allotment as he had hoped for office-based work.

After a few sessions, Mr Mottram realised how much he was enjoying his time in the garden and decided to stay.

“It’s a whole mixture of things, keeping fit is good, the social aspect is great, and the vegetables are excellent!” he said.

The group is always keen to find new volunteers to help around the garden, especially during the winter as numbers tend to drop.

Growing vegetables at one of the greenhouses

There are fewer than 10 regular volunteers, but the garden sees as many as 60 during the summer.

“We’re always looking for volunteers. We welcome people from all walks of life and all circumstances. No gardening experience is needed,” said Mr Allsop.

“When we have enough volunteers we hope to re-do the greenhouse.”

The garden is open to volunteers on Wednesdays and Fridays and an open day is held on the first Saturday of every month.

  • Those interested in volunteering can join The Riverside Community Garden Project Facebook group or contact Mr Allsop at tony@growcardiff.org.