The Power of Community

A community garden that took shape during lockdown has been captured on film. The short feature, which celebrates the efforts of volunteers responsible for the creation of the garden, was shot in September as part of the Nene Valley Festival.

The garden, which sits alongside the 15th century Chichele College owned by the Duchy of Lancaster was the brainchild of the Chair of the Chichele College Management Team Carol Fitzgerald. The strip of land on which it sits has been used as an access route to the adjoining barns for several years but had become overgrown and neglected. However, as volunteers began clearing the site, Carol saw its potential as a community resource and applied for funds and grants to transform the space into a sustainable garden for all.

With support from the Higham Ferrers Tourism team, the Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund, Nenescape (a National Lottery Heritage Fund collaborative project), the Mayor’s Charity, Higham Charter Book Profits Fund and individual donors, Carol raised the necessary funds and recruited local support for the project. Volunteers and local community groups spent an estimated 798 hours working on the garden which incorporated an archaeological dig of part of the site by the Higham Ferrers Archaeology and Research Society.

Staff from the local Co-op store dug, weeded and planted a vegetable patch. Chichele Garden volunteers added colourful pollinator-friendly borders together with a rainbow themed border near the entrance. Members of the Gateway Club, a social and leisure charity for adults with learning disabilities, planted raised beds and fruit trees They also helped to create a wildlife area under the giant sycamore trees on the site complete with bird, bat and hedgehog boxes to encourage biodiversity. Wheelchair-friendly paths and walkways have been laid to facilitate access as well as a hard landscaped seating area around the cherry tree. The result is an attractive, accessible and sustainable sensory garden which all members of the community are free to enjoy.

Commenting on the project Carol said: “The new Duchy Barn Garden shows exactly what can be done by a group of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. It was genuinely inspirational to see so many members of the community working together toward a common goal and I have found it an absolute joy. This film is a tribute to all those who have given their time, money, skills and gifts to turn the germ of an idea into a valuable community asset for years to come.”

Chichele College is a rare surviving example of a chantry college, a type of institution common in England in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was founded by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1422 as a college for secular canons. The term ‘college’ was then used to describe a community of priests who shared a communal life that was less strictly controlled than that within a monastery. Henry Chichele, who was born in Higham Ferrers, also founded St. John’s College and All Souls’ College in Oxford.

Today all that remains of Chichele College is one building used for art and heritage displays and a series of structures and building foundations representing four ranges around the College’s quadrangle. The ruins are under the guardianship of English Heritage

To view the film about the making of Chichele College’s Duchy Barn Garden, please click here.