How can you bring a Community together?

By Dan Best, Community Builder for Hele, Watcombe & Barton

How can you bring a Community together? That was one of the challenges asked of me, when I became a community builder supporting Hele, Barton and Watcombe for Torbay Community Development Trust in 2017.

A good question and so when several of the residents expressed a desire to develop some patches of derelict ground, that was my opportunity to “Go where the energy is” and two outside projects were born in Hele and Barton, The Our Space Project at Acorn Centre and the Cricketfield Community Garden.

The “Our Space” Project is based at the Acorn Centre, a partnership approach involving the Acorn Community Centre, Ageing Well Project and Positive People but most importantly residents of Hele and Barton, all bringing their own skills, experience and energy needed to transform the space.

In the summer of 2018 we carried out a consultation with residents, to identify what they wanted. The themes identified were a children’s play space,a social area and a growing space.

We then wondered how were going to achieve this, but soon had our answer. The Ageing Well community builders have a saying that we use “We have what we need, if we share what we have.”  So it was no surprise to hear that the Prince of Orange Pub, was undergoing a revamp and disposing of its outside play equipment. The community brought it to my attention and I arranged for some of the play equipment to go to both Our Space and the Cricketfield Community Garden.

The community had also asked for more community events, and this has been achieved through a workshop provided by Natasha Talbot at Positive People which  produced timber raised beds. We also worked with a group of residents to secure funding to convert a shipping container into a community workshop.

The Acorn Centre was successful in securing a People’s Health Trust grant, to allow us to organise and deliver a number of community events from a pumpkin party to a community Christmas party. The Christmas party came from a request from Hele Community Charity shop, who wanted to do something festive for the children of our neighbourhood, but needed a venue. So it was agreed to hold it at the Acorn Centre, with Sound Communities CIC providing the music, Sylvan Adventures CIC providing outdoor activities and Sanctuary Housing funding the event,  which turned out to be a massive success with more than 150 people attending, including 100 children seeing Santa.

We have continued to bring the community together in 2020 with the addition of an adult outdoor wellbeing group on Friday afternoons. We use practical skills in our community workshop, as well as providing gardening and forest school activities in an informal safe space for people to come, chill out around the fire, make friends and feel like they belong somewhere again.

Cricketfield Community Garden is the other outdoor opportunity, where I am supporting the community to turn a derelict growing project into a community garden. Luckily it also has one of Play Torbay’s adventure playgrounds alongside. We secured a grant from Sanctuary housing last year to cover the material costs of the new compost toilets, which were installed by 30 volunteers from StageCoach and Adult Social Services, who attended our Big Green Tidy Up day in September.

You might also remember the “Grassmen” from the Eyeview festival last summer? Well we grew one of those living grass suits, which highlights the range of opportunities which can be explored and learnt at your local community garden. It’s not all about growing vegetables and flowers.

This year we are developing further opportunities, by partnering with Ellacombe Café in “Community Hall without Walls” project, which will have community members learning to grow food and cooking it at the Café.

The lessons we have learnt so far from co-designing theses spaces and community gardens with local people is that individuals needed spaces and opportunities to come together to meet, share skills and celebrate, which can lead to communities forming around interests as well as places.

If you are thinking you would like to get involved then you will be pleased to know both these outdoor projects are open to anyone in Torbay and more details can be found on Facebook (Our Space here, Cricketfield Community Gardens here) or you can contact Dan Best, Community Builder for Hele, Barton and Watcombe on 07905 765 263 or

For more details about the Community Builders, or to find out who’s the Community Builder in your area, visit our info page on the AWT website, email or phone 01803 212638.