When I started working for the horticultural service about 20 years ago I didn’t ever consider I might have to run a service with nobody attending.  

We officially closed on Friday 27th March to the people who use the service and to some staff. We had spent 3 years trying to establish a base here at Minsteracres after our move from Ridley Hall and had recently had the propagators installed and electricity brought to the site. So we were ready for seed sowing. The push to grow and produce vegetable  plants for the walled garden and the peace garden and to have work for people after the pandemic became a strong force and we felt as though the seeds were the hope for the future.  

After much discussion it was agreed that Esther would ‘live’ in one of the greenhouses for her 3 days per week and I would stay in the office to keep things running and to support her with the plant propagation. It started to become obvious that some of our clients still needed support and so we soon found Tom a new role. We set up a variety of projects: Dropping plants off to be potted on in peoples’ gardens, working one to one: offering support for a daily walk, helping people in their own gardens to mow lawns. Setting David McNally up so he could watch live streamed and recorded mass, we spent a lot of time on video calls and showed people the progress in the greenhouses and the wild ponies of course and Tom started a football sticker album project with a few people and this was very popular. We also collected medication, helped with weekly food shopping and then started virtual art lessons. We tried to support carers as well as the clients.  

Meanwhile the weeds were growing around the flower beds and between the cracks in the paths. So after some discussion we were able to bring Ian and Jenny back. We wanted to help keep Minsteracres looking good for people when they returned. At this point some of the community were also helping in the grounds. 

Esther and I both have strong memories of the first two weeks when it was just the two of us here. We were cheered by the sound of a cuckoo, a bird that is in rapid decline. It had made it here, braving sandstorms and thunderstorms and environmental destruction. Its calling became a symbol of hope and resilience. The lack of planes and cars gave way to the chorus of birds. A barn owl often flew from right to left. We became immersed in nature.  

Slowly, from June 23rd we started to allow people to come back to Minsteracres. David McNally was the first person back and then one by one people returned. We had an outdoor toilet put in and decided to run the service outdoors. We currently have eighty percent of our clients attending.  

We have learnt so much from this experience.  It has helped us to see more clearly the benefits of the service, the importance of the environment, and mostly finding resilience, hope and adaptability and not giving up on something you believe in. I am very proud of all the people who attend this service and grateful for those who support us. 

 Like the cuckoo, against all the odds, we made it back!  

Karen Hemming 

Assistant Manager  

Tynedale Horticultural Service.