Holywell Trust is primarily a peace-building and community development charity established in September 1988 and based in the centre of Derry-Londonderry.
Holywell DCCP ( DiverseCity Community Partnership) is a partnership of nine diverse community organisations led by Holywell Trust, who came together to design and secure public funding for the existing eco-friendly building, which was handed over in December 2013. A fully accessible roof garden was integral to the design of the building. It was planned to have part of the roof planted in sedum as a green roof, however when savings had to be made at building stage this was left out.
With a blank space and knowledge of environmental issues, Holywell Trust's volunteer Gemma Harkin applied for and secured funding in 2015 from a Kew Gardens UK-wide project 'Grow Wild' to grow wildflowers on the roof. This funding included the supply of 10 planters for wildflowers, peat-free compost, perennial wildflower plug plants and wildflower seeds, two picnic tables and water supply to a hose for essential watering. Young people, aged 14-17, from a partner organisation Reach Across, helped in the planting, maintenance and seed collection for future sowing elsewhere.
The next phase of growing focused on food growing with funding secured from Acorn Fund's Giving Circle Fund. Four wooden vegetable planters made by a local men's group were placed on the roof garden with young people planting onions, peas, leeks, parsley and salads crops. The peas were harvested and joyfully shared by the young people with youths from an International exchange visit to the city.
Phase 3 was this year when we added four additional planters for better rotation of crops and more variety, including celery, spinach and kale plus a couple of sunflowers, which were planted in July and seeds sown then too for all-year lettuce and beetroot. All of these are doing really well and are providing a weekly harvest which is shared around the building.
In order to reach and engage a wider audience in growing various online initiatives were instigated during Covid 19 restrictions including a video and life webinar, as well as coverage On BBC Radio Foyle's Mark Patterson Show.
It is planned to increase access to this roof garden by training people of all ages to carry out tours of the roof garden in the near future. There are current restrictions on numbers permitted due to social distancing on the roof garden with a maximum of 10 people at any one time. The Holywell Building has a strict Covid-19 policy, and has been fitted with Covid safety features like automatic doors, automatic toilet flushes and automatic taps. There are two access doors and full wheelchair access to the roof. A third picnic table has been ordered to facilitate better social distancing has been ordered and will be delivered in two weeks.
Gemma Harkin, a volunteer and now Trustee of Holywell Trust, has long been involved in environmental issues. When designing the new building in the city centre the roof garden was built into this in 2013.
An application to Grow Wild led by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in 2015 was successful to plant wildflowers to support pollinators in keeping with the All Ireland Pollinator Plan.
In 2017 funding to grow vegetables with young people on the roof was obtained from a local women's philanthropic group; Acorn Fund Giving Circle.
The need to rotate crops better led to a further application for four additional vegetable planters were secured this year (2021) from Keep NI Beautiful.
Events have been held on the roof garden, including an intergenerational group of 20 people on issues relating to 'Climate Change and Us' in August 2019.
The roof garden is well used as a breakout space for groups within the building, and other people can book the use of this space through Holywell's normal booking process.
With restrictions imposed by Covid 19, the roof garden was maintained by growing starter plants at home and transplanting these later when possible.
There is a Tweet every week from the roof garden circulated to staff within the building (around 40 people) and others.
A video was recorded by three of Holywell's 'Future Leaders Project' participants on 12 April 2021, with a live Facebook webinar taking place the next day with a Q&A session on growing your own food crops following the video. This was available on the Pure Buzzin' NW webpage for a period of time.
In an effort to engage more women in climate change issues around pollinators and food growing, Gemma submitted an article to Foyle Women's Information Network called "Growing through Covid" and it is hoped this will be part of a publication on local women's stories of Covid 19.
On 2 September 2021 Gemma was featured on BBC's Radio Foyle's Mark Patterson Show talking about the roof garden and the issues involved. An invitation was extended to Radio Foyle to visit the roof garden in the future when Covid restrictions ease.
Young people from Reach Across, an organisation working with young people 14-17 years old, will plant strawberries at the end of September and then garlic at the end of October with a vampire theme including myths around garlic's protective powers. There will be a few winter crops to harvest until first sowing next year.
Access to the roof garden is currently somewhat restricted to groups using the building and their visitors, as well as young people, or other people by arrangement with Holywell. A plan is in place to open this up more by training young and older volunteers to do tours of this garden.
The number of food miles cut.