Community fundraiser continues for peace garden in the centre of Hitchin

The gardens surrounding the Quaker Meeting House in Paynes Park in Hitchin

The gardens surrounding the Quaker Meeting House in Paynes Park in Hitchin - Credit: Chris Kell

Work for a peace garden in the heart of Hitchin is well under way, with donations pouring in from members of the community.

The Hitchin Quaker Peace Garden project, in the grounds of the Friends Meeting House at Paynes Park, aims to create a place of tranquillity and meditation for people in the town.

Since work started on the garden in 2017, several additions have made their way into the garden, including a conscientious objection seat, a dove-shaped pond filled with lilies and goldfish and a multi-coloured picnic bench, donated by North Herts Interfaith Forum. A Pope Francis peace plaque, two more benches and a sundial also feature alongside a peace pole, with work under way on a mosaic.

The Hitchin Quaker Group are now fundraising for the final - and most grand - installation in their tranquil and well-used garden - a unity statue designed by two students at Hitchin Boys' School.

Hitchin Quakers are fundraising to commission and install a Peace Garden sculpture designed by two Hitchin Boys' students

Hitchin Quakers are fundraising to commission and install a sculpture designed by two Hitchin Boys' students at the front of the Peace Garden - titled Unity - Credit: Chris Kell

Called Unity, the sculpture, which will be crafted in brushed stainless steel by artist Diane Maclean, will act as a non-religious symbol of peace, advocating togetherness, not divisiveness.

Talking about the irony of having a peace garden in the middle of a busy town centre one way system, Chris Kell, Hitchin Quaker and convenor of the Peace Garden group, joked that the garden is the calm in the storm of busy everyday life.

She hopes that their fundraising efforts will also raise the profile of the garden and attract new visitors, regardless of faith or belief.

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"Crowdfunding is a brilliant way of reaching people that you would never have reached otherwise," she said.

"It feels like even if - God forbid - we didn't reach our target, we've already benefitted by feeling like there's a lot of support out there, and a lot of new people."

Chris Kell leads a session

Chris Kell - Credit: Archant

She added that in her experience, people in and around Hitchin aren't aware of what the meeting house is, or the historical - and spiritual - value of the grounds, and Chris hopes that this inclusive garden will open up a new area of Hitchin for its residents.

The Paynes Park meeting house stands on pillars over an old Quaker burial ground, holding the remains of 330 Quakers going back to 1757, with headstones installed in the mid 19th century. The peace garden is a use of some additional space within the grounds.

"Not everybody likes to be in a burial ground," Chris acknowledged, but pointed out that the nature of the land is different to those from other faiths.

A pond in the shape of a dove in the Peace Garden in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Paynes Park, Hitchin

A pond in the shape of a dove - a universal symbol of peace - in the Peace Garden in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Paynes Park, Hitchin - Credit: Chris Kell

"The way that Quakers do things is always about equality. The little gravestones are quite small and not obtrusive, so it doesn't make it feel like you're wondering through a graveyard where it's all about death and mourning. This just feels like a garden - more of a memorial garden."

Jesting that there are some things that you can't do with voluntary labour and good will, the Quaker group are aiming to raise a staggering £5,000 of their £10,000 goal through crowdfunding. As well as landing £2,000 of funding from NHDC, they have already successfully raised £2,900 plus gift aid through their online efforts, with all donors invited to the official Peace Garden opening ceremony on its completion.

For more information and to donate to the Unity statue in the Peace Garden, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/hitchin-peace-garden-sculpture.

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