Mary's collageMinsteracres’ Peace Garden, designed and created by Lya Vollering, a lay member of the community, with horticultural expertise and considerable muscle from Ross Menzies and Katrina Padmore of community gardeners Let’s Get Growing, is proving something of a haven.

As it approaches its fifth growing season, it’s clear to see what a change this 1.7 acres of former pasture has made to the people who use it.

One of those people is Mary Leach from Hexham who attends Let’s Get Growing’s therapeutic Thursday gardening group as a participant, but has gone on to volunteer as a helper with their other group on a Tuesday. The project is aimed at people with a variety of physical and mental health needs to help them discover a greater sense of wellbeing.

Mary was one of the first people to join the scheme when it began in 2012. “It was a wet summer,” she says, “I remember it because I don’t like thunder storms and we had lots of them!”

Mary’s great love of the outdoors and her eye for art are evident as soon as she begins to speak. She loves the views of the Cheviots from the grounds, and the trees and animals in the woodland. Like the others in the group she’s happy to go out in all weathers, “I don’t mind getting mucky,” she says, “And I always dress for the weather – usually in pink!”

When the worst of the winter forces them indoors, Mary loves the art projects decorating plant pots and painting faces on the scarecrows.

Mary’s mum Patricia has noticed a change in her since she joined the Thursday group. “It’s the best thing that’s happened to Mary,” she says. “She’s made a lot of friends and I’ve noticed a big change in her confidence.

“In the past she wouldn’t go anywhere alone. Now she takes herself off for a walk with her camera, and even goes to swimming classes on her own. Her health has improved, and she’s taking interest in other things, like clothes.”

Since Christmas, Mary has taken on another art project. Using the new camera her mum gave her, she has been recording the things and people she sees when she’s out and about. The results are on show at Minsteracres and already attracting lots of complements.