How these Blackpool neighbours transformed their overgrown back-alley into a gorgeous green space
A back alley has become a hub of community spirit since a Blackpool couple got tired of it being used as a dumping ground.
The passage behind Newcastle Avenue used to be overgrown with nettles and brambles, and piled up with rubbish left by former tenants.
But in 2016, Angela and Paul Ogden decided they’d had enough.
Angela, who retired from hairdressing due to illness, said: “I was very poorly at the time and I just wanted to come and sit out with a brew but I was sick of looking at it.”
So with the help of a few neighbours they cleared it up - but then Angela and Paul decided to go a step further by transforming the alleyway into a community garden.
She said it’s done her the world of good.
“Mentally I wouldn’t have gone out of the house if not for this, so I’d have quite easily curled up and hibernated.”
But the project gave her a sense of purpose, and had led to a lot of meaningful friendships.
Paul remembers a time when his wife struggled to walk.
"She has M.E. and she’d be wiped out for days after doing anything. She could have easily just given up but she just puts everything into this, and it’s what keeps her going.”
And the pair have seen it grow, from just eight residents who attended the first meeting, to a thriving micro-community.
“We have a really good community spirit now. We have a lot of rented houses on the street, and families weren’t staying long but now they are renting a lot more long-term because they love the alley. All the kids play together and we all share everything out.”
The Ogdens moved to their home near the Belle Vue in 2007. Angela had enjoyed gardening at their old home on Gloucester Avenue.
As a builder, Paul’s construction skills have been handy.
But starting up the Belle-Vue Strawberry Gardens has been a learning curve.
At the start, the couple had to set up a committee group and meet with the council to get approval.
“[The council] had reservations at first, but then they really got behind us once they saw what we were doing. [Talbot ward councillors], Mark Smith and Jane Hugo, have been very supportive.”
The gardens are even being used as a flagship to show the way for other neighbourhoods.
“We’ve had a few groups across Blackpool come for a tour as they are thinking of doing something similar.”
The alley is crammed with pots of all shapes and sizes, filled with veggies, herbs, and colourful spring flowers.
There are seedlings, all neatly labelled.
The group also recently had 105 saplings donated from the Woodland Trust. They have planted hazel, blackthorn, crab apple, and cherry trees.
But it’s all organic and Angela has learned a lot about what kinds of plants to pair together so that nature can do its job.
“It’s all about balance in nature. Everything has a purpose. We keep the nettles under control but we don’t get rid of them because there’s a lot of insects that use it as a food source, or leave their eggs on.
Also we forget that weeds are still flowers. The pests are drawn to wild flowers so they leave the veg alone.”
And the kids on the street are learning a lot too – one young family was shocked to learn that carrots had dirt on them, having only ever seen them in the supermarkets.
They have a space for recycling and composting too, where residents can bring their food waste. The aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible.
The garden was also a safe place for the kids to play during the pandemic.
And a lot more young mums have been using the space since then. The group organise activities including crafts, book swaps and an Easter egg hunt.
Six year old Halle is getting ready to paint an old fence that someone had thrown out.
Mum, Hannah Tuck, said: “It’s going to be made to look like bright coloured pencils when it’s finished. They will be put in the children’s seating area to brighten up the wall.”
Another mum on the street said: “[My daughter] is a very hands-on child, so she loves to get her hands dirty. This is really educational as she doesn’t get to do anything nature-related at school.”
The mum rents a house on Newcastle Avenue.
She said: “We heard about this and just thought it was a bunch of old folks with an allotment. I can’t believe how much of a community spirit there is. They’re always getting the kids involved with stuff and offering to help out with odd jobs.
"It’s the best place I’ve ever lived.”
The Belle Vue Strawberry Gardens has had recognition from North West In Bloom, and came fourth in the BBC Radio Lancashire Community Heroes Award 2018.