Sowing the seeds of a fresh start

PENSIONER Isobel Barnes is spending her retirement nurturing plants and people. The retired social worker from Driver s End in Codicote leased an overgrown field in Rabley Heath back in July this year and, together with a team of volunteers, has transform

PENSIONER Isobel Barnes is spending her retirement nurturing plants and people.

The retired social worker from Driver's End in Codicote leased an overgrown field in Rabley Heath back in July this year and, together with a team of volunteers, has transformed it into a garden nursery.

Volunteers for the project include a wide spectrum of society including professional people, people dealing with life crises, people with special needs, and friends and family of Isobel.

Volunteers also include members of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms group, known as WWOOFers, who stay with Isobel. They come from countries all over the world to work on projects in exchange for free accommodation.


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Now the nursery is up and running, Isobel and her volunteers sow seeds and plant cuttings to sell at events. Any money raised is ploughed straight back into the project.

Everything is done on a shoestring and Isobel manages to recycle discarded and unwanted materials and use them in her nursery, including equipment bound for landfill.

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The 67-year-old said: "As a hobby I've always loved to grow things and in retirement this for me is ideal.

"I love being with people and plants and when both are given attention they will flourish."

To get the project off the ground, Isobel initially approached The Living Room in Stevenage - which offers rehabilitation programmes for people with addictions - and the Stevenage Haven - a homeless shelter - and both charities put forward volunteers.

Isobel said: "We have had a lot of people from The Living Room and they intend to send us more people in the spring.

"People do tend to come and go and friends and relatives help out. We have people of all ages and abilities.

"I just seem to pick volunteers up along the way, including people I come across in the village."

Speaking about the project, Isobel said: "I absolutely love it. We help each other and we just have fun together. Life can be difficult but it should also be fun. These people are inspirational and it's a very caring, loving, fun environment.

"Some of our volunteers have shown enormous courage in facing the problems they have had to face. They are quite inspirational. A number of them get back in touch to share their progress or seek horticulture advice for their own gardens and allotments."

Isobel is also planning another project with Stevenage Haven - to design and create a garden at alms houses in Church Lane in Stevenage, which will be converted into second stage accommodation for homeless people.

"It will be a very special place," she said.

"There is a tiny garden but we are going to have to lay some paving slabs, make planting boxes, and plant trees, bulbs and shrubs.

"We are just going to make it as pleasant and as social as possible.

"We have got a meeting about it on December 29 and we want to try and get the garden finished for the official opening on January 23."

Isobel also helps Stevenage Haven move homeless people into accommodation, by helping to ferry their belongings to their new homes as they prepare to start their new lives.

She said: "We are desperate to get a vehicle. To buy one and keep it on the road would be expensive so, in these hard economic times, we need someone to donate a vehicle or give it to us at an economic price. If there is a fairy godmother or a Father Christmas who would do this, that would be great."

If you can help with a vehicle or are interested in becoming a volunteer, call Isobel on 01438 820154 or email her at isobelbarnes@aol.com

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