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Faversham: Council kicks out volunteer gardeners to spend cash on contractors

The borough council would rather spend money on contractors than use volunteer gardeners.

A group of devoted residents, who have maintained the war memorial garden in Stone Street, Faversham, for more than six years, have been told to pick up their shovels and stop work immediately.

The news comes four months after £100,000 plans to transform the green space were turned down by Swale Borough Council’s planning committee – a proposal which sparked more than 70 objections from the public, including the volunteers.

The voluntary group which has worked on the memorial garden for the last five years.

The voluntary group which has worked on the memorial garden for the last five years.

The idea had been to move the listed memorial into the garden and install plaques carrying the names of the town’s fallen, concreting over a lot of the volunteers’ work.

This week, in a letter to gardener Ros Young, head of commissioning and customer contract Dave Thomas says the council has recently negotiated an extension to the grounds maintenance contract with Blenwood.

He says that as part of the process, a review was carried out on the areas included in the contract.

The memorial garden as it is today.

The memorial garden as it is today.

Mr Thomas said: “A number of priority areas have been established that will see an improved level of maintenance, and our members have asked that the war memorial garden be included as one of these key sites that, with others, will contribute to the centenary commemorations taking place across the borough in 2018.

“As a result, we are writing to say that we require you to cease any further voluntary work at the site given the new contract.

“We appreciate the time and effort you have put in to keeping the area maintained since 2011.

“We recognise you may wish to remove some of the items you have contributed to the area prior to the contractors undertaking further works. Changing the contract will relieve you of any additional work relating to spring planting.” The group has already planted hundreds of spring bulbs, which were bought from a local charity auction.

At the planning committee meeting in September, the councillors had voted 10 to seven to refuse the plans, on the grounds that it would be harmful to the position of the listed structure.

Summer in the memorial garden.

Summer in the memorial garden.

At the time, Cllr Mike Henderson (Ind) said: “I think we have lost sight of what the community in Faversham would like to see happening.”

Many of the objections from the public had been about the loss of green space, suggestions that the money would be better spent elsewhere, and that the garden was fine as it is.

Ros Young, of Stone Street, said this week: “We were very surprised to receive this letter from the council and disappointed that we have been asked to leave the garden after all of our work there over the past six years.

“We are a group of residents who enjoy gardening, enjoy the social side of meeting there, and it has become a popular place for lots of people across the town, not just those who live in Stone Street.

“It has become a community project, whether people come to garden or just sit and enjoy the space, and people really appreciate the work we have done – completely free of charge.”

Swale Council

Swale Council

A council spokesman said: “Our grounds maintenance contractor has always maintained the garden but we have informally allowed the volunteers to support on certain items.

“As the letter states, we have recently extended the ground maintenance contract for a further five years with Blenwood. As a result of changes to KCC’s highway cutting, we have been able to focus some of the contractor’s time on other projects.

“Furthermore, money previously allocated for highway planting is being redirected on to areas that remain in our management and are in key areas of the towns, so no additional cost is being incurred. The war memorial is one of these the sites selected.

"As a result we want to ensure the volunteers do not undertake any work that may be later removed. We continue to encourage volunteering in our open spaces and have offered the opportunity to those that have been displaced at this site the option of supporting other sites, such as Oare Gunpowder Works.”

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