A team of military and civilian volunteers who lovingly brought back to life a walled garden in the home of a former top-secret World War Two listening post have been awarded two prestigious Ministry of Defence conservation awards.
The Chicksands Conservation Group were presented with the coveted Silver Otter Award and the Social Value, Community and Heritage Award at ceremony held at their Bedfordshire base.
“The team put in a massive amount of work and effort into turning the garden into a useable space. People didn’t really know it existed before, it was under used and had so much potential. The work the team did to return it to that useable stage was fantastic.” WO2 Wignall, Chicksands Regimental Quartermaster
The accolades formed part of the annual Defence Sanctuary Awards that recognise outstanding conservation and sustainability effort across the MOD estate.
The community walled garden is part of Chicksands Priory which is today home to Defence Intelligence. The Priory played a huge part in the Second World War by intercepting and logging coded enemy transmissions which were sent directly to the world-famous Bletchley Park to be decoded and analysed.
The team of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers began working on the project in November 2019 and the first few months saw them rigorously clearing what had become a wilderness due to years of neglect.
Waist-high grass was chopped down to reveal memorial plaques to members of the Y service, a unit of radio operators who operated secret radio-listening stations here in the UK and around the world during World War Two.
Plants were propagated and sold in the gardens, raising over £500 to purchase tools for the community of volunteers to use. As the garden grew in beauty, so did the pool of volunteers, corralled by head gardener Annie Bamber, who could see its potential and wanted to help.
Multiple allotments have been created using old railway sleepers which were destined for landfill and vegetable beds have also been restored. Tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers and squashes are just a few of the vegetables that are flourishing and the borders and flowers are also thriving.
Volunteer Katie Greenwood has worked to restore the Black Hamburg vine which now has a burgeoning grape crop where last year there was none. The plan is to produce a Walled Garden Muscat wine that will be auctioned to raise further funds.
However, there is still work to be done, the next stage is to restore the glasshouse. In the meantime, the military and local community can enjoy this beautifully restored garden.
Chicksands Regimental Quartermaster WO2 Wignall said: “The team put in a massive amount of work and effort into turning the garden into a useable space. People didn’t really know it existed before, it was under used and had so much potential. The work the team did to return it to that useable stage was fantastic.”
Speaking about the walled garden the Minister for Defence Procurement, the Honourable Jeremy Quin MP, who presented the virtual awards, said: “The judges were impressed with the stunning garden transformation photographs, which were like finding a secret garden. The project has great social value, a community project, with heritage, volunteering, wildlife, green space, community well-being and also, not to be forgotten, military benefit.”