Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens

Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted on our plans for 2020.

We have a membership of about 50 but the number of active members, including the committee of ten, is only about 15 - 20, that is, those who come to our volunteer sessions, regularly or occasionally. Lock-down stopped all our volunteer sessions until July, since when we have restarted with social distancing. We have weekly gardening sessions and a monthly litter pick. Unfortunately, all of our 2020 events had to be cancelled, so the pandemic has been very disruptive. Losing all the events means that our income for 2020 is greatly reduced. The loss of gardening sessions for 4 months has left us with a large back-log of work to catch up with. 

We had great plans for 2020, which is our 70th anniversary year. Friarwood Valley Gardens was created in March 1950 by the then Pontefract Borough Council . We had several projects lined up for the commemoration, which have either been put on hold or delayed by the lock-down but it's not a massive problem as we can defer much of this activity to next year. Despite the lock-down and not able to continue with group volunteering, members were able to contribute individually and we have planted our flower beds and planters for the summer and kept them watered.

One surprising feature was the appearance of painted rocks around one of the trees early in the lock-down. The rocks proliferated and through postings on our Facebook page we soon had a spiral "Covid Snake" around the tree. This was such a popular feature that it was decided to install it as a permanent feature and the Council agreed to do it for us. On 30th July a concrete base was constructed and the rocks were embedded as the "Covid Circle of Hope", providing a permanent memorial of the pandemic crisis. The Valley Gardens has been very popular with families during the lock-down, with children off school and this probably facilitated the enthusiasm for the "Covid Snake". We have noted an increase in interest in the activities of the Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens as the pandemic has continued, despite the cancellation of our events and hope to capitalise on the resulting community spirit by encouraging the involvement in our volunteer activities: gardening and litter picking.

The 70th anniversary has prompted our interest in the history of the Valley Gardens, particularly the Black Friars who resided on the site from 1256 to 1539, and liquorice cultivation. We plan to install a blue plaque and information boards. There is still a small clump of liquorice plants, with a commemorative bench and Japanese flowering cherry tree close by. Surprisingly, the bench has a plaque in memory of the atomic bombs of 1945, installed in 1985 on the 40th anniversary. It was therefore appropriate to renovate the bench in time for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on 15th August. Apparently the event which prompted the recognition of the anniversary in 1985 was the visit to Pontefract of a group of Japanese pharmacists interested in Pontefract's liquorice history.

We have an enthusiastic committee which has continued to have regular meetings via Zoom and new ideas for improvements are continually put forward. FFVG has existed for 8 years and we have achieved a great deal in that time. Friends of Friarwood Valley Gardens exists to enhance and preserve Pontefract's Valley Gardens for the benefit of the community by encouraging community involvement with volunteering, sponsorship and donations. The pandemic has had one benefit of increasing community spirit and we hope to benefit from that.

Since August, we have had new volunteers attending our gardening and litter picking sessions and despite another lockdown we continue with our volunteer activities with appropriate social distancing. A couple of our younger members who have young families are organising a Christmas trail for the last weekend before Christmas and are also planning a children’s play trail for next year to mark out on our main path. 

Colin White