The award-winning Friends of Ribbleton Library keeping the gardens in bloom

The UK has forever been a nation of green-fingered nature-lovers. We're blessed with a damp climate to put it mildly, so verdant pursuits are actively encouraged, and there's something quintessentially English about pottering about in a lush garden, bees a-humming, Test Match Special a-reporting the cricket team's latest escapades.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Tuesday, 30th July 2019, 9:49 am
Updated Tuesday, 30th July 2019, 10:49 am
The Friends of Ribbleton Library
The Friends of Ribbleton Library

The Friends of Ribbleton Library have been a-pottering for a decade now, tending lovingly to the gardens surrounding the library itself. Celebrating their 10th anniversary earlier this year with a special event to which a range of original members, funders, and supporters were invited, the community gardening club rang in their 10th birthday in style.

"The anniversary celebrations were quite low-key but by and large there was quite a large cross-section of people there," said Steve Dolby, the group's Chairman. "It was good to see a lot of faces; while I've not been there since the beginning, a few who have turned up."

Originally set up with help from Preston City Council, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, and Heritage Lottery funding, the group has provided a brilliant social outlet and a chance to engage in some regular physical activity for its members, of whom eight are still regulars down on Ribbleton Hall Drive. Now predominantly in their seventies, the nevertheless-avid gardeners are still going strong.

Gardening has been proven to offer a range of mental and physical benefits.

"These days we meet whenever it's nice," explained Steve. "We have lots of perennials which need dead-heading and trimming, and there's always weeding. We've also got a fairly large fruit selection, from which we make our own jam which we sell to help fund us - technically, we're an orchard with the mount of apple trees we have. And we've got a vegetable bed which has been very successful over the years."

Back in its fledgling years, the group was famed for raking in the award for their bucolic efforts. Having been crowned with their first gong just six weeks after first breaking soil with shovel or spade, the Friends went on to claim the North West in Bloom's 'It's Your Neighbourhood' Best Small Neighbourhood prize in 2011, picking up the Best Small Neighbourhood and Best Overall Project titles the year after, too.

"There's a lot of pride in representing a group which has won prizes in the past," Steve explained. "When I came in, we were very much 'let's do that, let's try that', and we entered a competition in 2011 and got the Level 5 Outstanding Certificate and thought, 'that's it, mission accomplished', but then - hang on - we got the CGA Trophy for Best Small Neighbourhood as well, so we were really made up.

"We're all getting on, so we're not as ambitious as we used to be in getting awards and prizes," Steve added, with the likes of Treasurer Frances Halley and Secretary June Dolby, Steve's wife, having been with the group for years. "We just keep things ticking over; we've all got family responsibilities like baby-sitting!"

The group has around eight members at present.

Always learning and expanding into new realms, the Friends have this month collaborated with Lindsey McCormick from the Harris Museum for the 'Round and About Ribbleton' exhibition staged at the library. With the exhibition having gone down a treat, members got the chance to look through the museum's archives for things pertaining to the library and unearthed the very key used to unlock the library when it was first opened in 1954.

But fundamentally, this is a group focused on their garden. "It's great for keeping people social; we have a Christmas get-together as things naturally die-off a bit in September-October and in the winter when the weather gets bitter," said Steve. "There's a really nice social vibe, and the physical exercise is good as well.

"The heavy work as mostly been done and the garden has settled down - we have the odd project now and again like our anniversary tree which we're trying to get planted properly - but we just keep it going."

The group also grows its own fruit and makes jam.