A FIFE gardening group has been praised by villagers for providing a vital Covid-19 lifeline for those struggling with loneliness and disability.

Falkland Gardening Group (previously Falkland in Bloom) has been operating for 35 years, and during lockdown acted as a saviour in the community for many isolated locals.

With more than 50 members, volunteers can use the group’s three polytunnels, two raised beds and 14 allotments in the village’s Sugar Acre Garden to grow chillies, peppers, melons, physalis, plus a long list of other impressive fruit and veg.

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Excess produce is donated to the wider community, while the tunnels are also used to propagate small plants for the village floral displays.

During the pandemic, the garden evolved into a place of safety and community for people in Falkland, by offering socially distanced spaces to meet.

The successes of the Falkland Gardening Group is being showcased as an inspiring community project in the Scottish Land Commission’s MyLand.Scot campaign – an online initiative aiming to highlight the many benefits that land use brings to communities around Scotland.

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Local resident Yvonne Purves was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 12 years ago and was offered the use of a custom-built raised flowerbed by the group during the pandemic.

Yvonne, 56, said: “Falkland Gardening Group has played an incredible role in my mental and physical health during the pandemic.

"Not only has the group created a safe space for me to socialise, but it has also offered me a way to stay active during such a tough time.

“Exercise is key in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s, so when I was offered a custom-made area, I was overwhelmed. I now offer up my fresh produce to family and the local community.”

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A registered Scottish charity, the gardening group was founded in 1987 and uses land owned by local estate owner Ninian Crichton Stuart, with the aim of improving the Falkland area through a horticultural and community focus.

Catriona Parkes, another gardening group member who benefitted massively throughout lockdown, said: “As a retiree living solo in Falkland, things got very lonely during the pandemic. I was very lucky to have the garden as an outlet where I could keep busy and see others safely.”

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Doug Young, chairman of Falkland Gardening Group, helped to build the first polytunnel at Sugar Acre in the 1990s and continues to direct the group as a vehicle to help horticultural and social wellbeing for locals.

Doug said: “The pandemic has been the biggest challenge we’ve faced since forming the group. We managed to turn the tables and use it as a force for good, giving people options to get outside and do something to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

Additionally, Gregor Milne, vice-chair of Falkland Gardening Group, works closely with Falkland House School – inviting young people with autism, ADHD and additional support needs to use the facilities at Sugar Acre, enabling essential development of social skills.

Young added: “It’s incredible to see how far we’ve come. To think of how we can use this land in so many different ways to benefit the environment, wildlife and people’s wellbeing is astonishing.”

Hamish Trench, chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission, said: “It’s brilliant to showcase the Falkland Gardening Group in the MyLand.Scot campaign as yet another example of the way land can be positively used around the country.

“The Falkland Gardening Group has been doing such good work for years and highlights how a gardening project can have such a wide-spanning list of benefits for all sorts of people within a single community, showing how land can improve day-to-day lives in so many more ways than most of us think.

“The MyLand.Scot campaign hopes to bring awareness to the possibilities land can have around the country. Ranging from housing to giving people the means and confidence to build businesses and communities, land can play an active role in everyday Scotland.”

The Scottish Land Commission works to create a Scotland where everybody can benefit from the ownership and use of the nation’s land and buildings.

Launched in 2021, MyLand.Scot is an initiative designed to increase the Scottish public’s participation in land reform through a series of case studies, information pages and a brand-new podcast, The Lay of the Land.