Users of a much-loved Tyneside community garden can look forward to some protection from the elements following the award of a four-figure grant by Newcastle Building Society to pay for the installation of a permanent marquee in its grounds.
Whickham Hermitage Community Garden is a walled garden on the outskirts of Gateshead that provides a peaceful place for people to enjoy a wide range of plants and flowers in a tranquil location.
The volunteer-run garden, which sits behind Whickham Community Centre, has been extensively restored and renewed over a 15-year period, and is used by a wide range of local groups, including schools, disability groups, and Gateshead Probation Service and Community Payback.
As part of encouraging even more groups to make use of the garden, the volunteer group than runs it had been looking at how it might install a permanent marquee over its outside seating area, so that it could be used as an outdoor classroom by local school and a setting for events and activities.
After being put forward for a grant by Newcastle Building Society Whickham branch customer John Gibbon, a £1,865 donation is being made by the Society to fund the purchase of the marquee, which is six metres in diameter.
And the Garden committee is now looking to the local community to suggest ideas for different events that they’d like to see held there in the future, as well as encouraging more people to get involved with the management of the site.
The funding has been provided by the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which has been set up to provide an ongoing source of financial support for charities and community groups that are located in or around the communities served by the Society’s 28-strong branch network, and put forward for support by its customers.
 
The original Hermitage Garden, which dated from the early 19th century, had fallen into disrepair and disuse before a five-year campaign by a group of local volunteers led to its restoration and reopening in 2006.
Since then, it has flourished, and in 2012, the Orangery Coffee House was built and opened to help generate funds to support the garden’s ongoing running costs.
David Peacock, chairman of Whickham Hermitage Community Garden, says: “The garden was created and is maintained by local people, is open for everyone to use free of charge and plays host to many different elements of our local community.
“We’ve tried using canvas marquees in the past, but they’ve tended to only last a matter of months before the weather made them unusable, so we knew we needed to put something much more robust in place.
“Having a permanent marquee in place will give us the facilities we need to hold more events in the garden, and we’d love to hear from local people about the sorts of things they’d like to see, as well as to get more of them involved with looking after the place.
“Funds are clearly limited for this sort of undertaking, and it would have taken us much longer to make this project happen without the help that Newcastle Building Society has very kindly provided, and it’s absolutely fantastic to now be able to get on with it.”
John Gibbon adds: “When the branch manager told me about the Society’s community grants I thought it would be worthwhile applying, but I never imagined it would happen so quickly.
“I’m just over the moon with the grant.  Having a permanent canopy means that many more local groups like the Women’s Knitting Group and the Camera Club can use the outside space.”
The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.  Grant applications for a maximum of £3,000 can be made in any Society branch or via the newcastle.co.uk website by customers who wish to support their local communities.
Karl Lamb, manager at the Society’s Whickham branch, adds: “The Garden is a wonderful community asset that can be enjoyed by so many different groups and individuals in our area in so many different ways.
“Our Community Fund is helping us support communities across the North East and backing this carefully thought-out project is a great way for us to support a valuable initiative here on our doorstep.”
For more information on the Whickham Hermitage Community Garden, please visitwwwwhickhamhermitagegarden.co.uk