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John's Story

David McCann   Wed 14 Oct 2020

We would like you to take a few minutes to read this story, it is a story that deserves to be read and told over and over again as it will emboldened your belief in the power of parks and green spaces and community gardening. This is the story of John, the 2019 Green Flag Award Volunteer of the year.

John has spent the past 2 years bringing beauty to the village of Toome. In the cold, dark days of Winter he says only the thought of the exuberance of Spring and the lush colours of Summer kept him going. It was from here that his imagination ran wild until he settled on how he and the other volunteers could bring colour to their own community. Hanging baskets! A simple idea but one that can make the place brighter. As the temperatures raised the workload increased and the team of volunteers, tirelessly hand planted over 60 hanging baskets with care. Within moments of selling them to the community their popularity boomed.

John doesn’t just have a knack for decorating beautiful baskets he is also a remarkable salesman he wasn’t just selling hanging baskets however; to each and every customer he sold the beauty and the benefits of the community allotment garden.

John has personally reaped the physical and mental rewards that getting involved in a community garden can bring and he has made it his calling to involve as many as possible.

John’s story has been one of struggle and determination; and its impact has been personal and public.

John came to the community garden at a time of personal difficulty. Through volunteering in the garden he regained physical and mental strength and in doing so has had a massive positive impact on his own wife and child. His wife couldn’t believe the positive impact the garden had, as she truly had believed her husband had suffered irrevocably. After a period of time, he re-entered education, at Greenmount and used the garden as a place to practice the theory he learned and also as an area to experiment with ideas for the projects he was undertaking. In June 2019 he graduated Greenmount college and credits volunteering in the community garden as the source of his strength and determination.

John’s story has been a source of inspiration to the other volunteers and patrons of the community garden and has inspired them to continue to their efforts even on the hardest, coldest and darkest of days.

John suffered a severe stroke which had a debilitating effect physically and mentally. He had to give up his work, and became more withdrawn from public life. Things were bleak. His family often recall about how down he was during this period and how they were unsure what their future would look like.

That was until he became involved in the garden. Little by little both physically and mentally he regained his strength. When he first came to the garden his motion was very slow and he required a walking stick, now they have to insist that he doesn’t lift as many baskets and flowerboxes and to slow down! His strength and mobility has improved incredibly. In addition to this his great humour has returned and he often leaves the volunteers in stitches to the point where they can’t get any work done!

He insists he hasn’t overcome his obstacles but that he overcomes them every single day and desires to help other in his situation to do so similarly.

Through the local community group TIDAL, who are a Healthy Living Alliance Centre, the local health care providers and the Stroke Association of Northern Ireland together they are in the process of creating a stroke support group to be based in the community garden. The only one in the area.

He truly has made his obstacles his opportunities and he is now determined to help others do the same with theirs.

John is a volunteer at Duneane Allotment Garden, part of the Green Flag Award Community Site at Canal Walk, Toome.

There are 5 Green Flag Award Community sites managed by community groups in Northern Ireland. These are a mix of historical sites, pocket parks, allotments and even a cemetery!

Community green spaces are found in the heart of towns, villages and communities all over the country, we know there are many more out there that could become involved in the award. If you would like more information on how you and your community space could get involved

If you would like more details on TIDAL Healthy Living Alliance Centre please contact tidal_toome@hotmail.com.