PEN19361_PentridgeCommunityGarden
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From little things… The Pentridge Community Garden

Once upon a time, Pentridge maintained a thriving farm tended by inmates, cultivating vegetable such as beets and other staples in what was once part of F Division.

Now, produce is set to spring forth once more from the soil of the former prison, with the Pentridge Community Garden.

In 2016 Andrew Ogbourne, a resident of one of the early Pentridge developments, saw an opportunity to create something of lasting value for the wider community and those who call the grounds of the former Bluestone College home. Although an IT consultant by profession, his experience growing up in Tasmania helping his father with the backyard veggie garden inspired Andrew to explore the notion of establishing a community garden to provide an inclusive, green space away within the city.

‘I’ve always been inspired by nature,’ Andrew says. ‘I could see that the Pentridge precinct, which is a huge site, was developing to become a major residential hub. I had read about community gardens and visited a few, so I knew that a community garden would be a fantastic asset to the local residents and the community more broadly.’

Men with gardening implements cultivating vegetables; from the Alan K. Jordan photographic collection, held by the State Library of Victoria. Image under copyright.
Men with gardening implements cultivating vegetables (1968-69); an image of the F Division farmland, from the Alan K. Jordan photographic collection, held by the State Library of Victoria. Image under copyright.

Andrew recognised that the site had plenty of open space, but he did not know who it ultimately belonged to or what was ‘spoken for’. So he did his homework. ‘I did some research and saw that Shayher Group are the developers of the largest part of the Pentridge precinct, so I started with them. I anticipated a hard slog to find a site that we could use for a garden, but Shayher immediately saw the value in the idea.’

Shayher Group project spokesperson Anthony Goh says the opportunity to bring a community garden to Coburg aligned perfectly with the company’s vision for Pentridge, ‘to transform this iconic site into a mixed-use urban precinct for the community to enjoy.’

Robert Cogoi, Pentridge Coburg’s Project Manager, was also strong supporter of the Pentridge Community Garden, Andrew recalls. ‘Rob was extremely supportive of the idea. Shayher are building an urban precinct that includes residential, commercial and community spaces – they could see that a community garden would contribute to that vision.’

With Robert on board, it didn’t take long for a suitable garden site within the Pentridge walls to be made available, on the corner of Murray Road and Stockade Avenue. It will be one of the only Melbourne community gardens to be built on private land rather than council land.

‘First it was encouragement… [but] more practically, they provided the site, made it secure with a fence and provided power and recycled water for use by the garden.’

For Andrew, the provision of such resources made all the difference to the viability of his vision. ‘The water is a huge deal,’ he says.  ‘Many community gardens either struggle to access water or pay a lot of money for it.  Shayher has installed a water system that collects water from across the site, treats it and makes it available for use by the garden. Gold!’

Shayher Group also assisted with the publicity and communication needed to build community support, Andrew says, which is crucial to getting the idea up and running. ‘One person’s idea can’t achieve much, so bringing together a group of people to develop the garden was the first step.’

GROW WITH US 

Garden Shed
Andrew (at left) and some of the Pentridge Community Garden team in front of their newly delivered container shed.

In addition to the solid responses he and his small team had generated on Facebook, the project has attracted coverage in the Moreland Leader and on 2GB, helping spread the word. ‘We now have a committed group of local residents who are developing a garden,’ he says with some pride, ‘plus a couple of hundred Facebook followers who are looking forward to the day when we start planning vegetables!’

Nonetheless, Andrew is pragmatic about the challenges that face any such initiative. He raises the point that any community organisation needs and administrative structure – groups need to become an incorporated Association in order to have a membership, spend money, sign leases and so forth. Working out the requirements, let alone setting it up and managing it all is a daunting prospect.

To help overcome these hurdles, the Pentridge Community Garden has joined forces with Moreland Community Gardening Incorporated (MCG), the group that operates one of Andrew’s primary inspirations, the West Brunswick Community Garden. ‘We held our first meeting at the West Brunswick garden,’ Andrew says. ‘MCG have a vision of providing the governance structures and advice, to help the development of a series of community gardens in Moreland.’ It was, according to Andrew, ‘a perfect match’, that has seen the Pentridge initiative established as a new garden within the MCG structure.

Even with these challenges overcome however, securing funding remains crucially. ‘Building a garden with beds, a shed, watering systems, shade structures, tools, somewhere to sit and so on takes time and requires money,’ he says. Andrew estimates that building the complete garden will cost in the area of $20,000 – a not insignificant sum.

‘We have a long way to go,’ he concedes. But the Pentridge Community Garden team are nothing if not resourceful. In addition to contributions from the garden’s ‘foundation’ donor Nelson Alexander, its organising group is currently working furiously on a number of fund-raising initiatives – sausage sizzles (with one upcoming on August 11 at Bunnings Coburg, who generously donated a number of garden tools to the team), mushroom box drives, and donations from community members and local businesses.

There are also sponsorship packages available for any businesses or organisations that wish to donate money or goods.

‘If we can find $5,000 to buy soil, watering pipes, mulch and edging soon, we will have summer vegetables this summer,’ Andrew says. ‘Now that we have the land ready we’re looking for donations of soil, compost or money that will help us purchase materials to grow the garden into an urban farm with vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and berries that the community can use all year round.’

And with Kieran Dickson, the talented landscape architect who co-designed the West Brunswick garden, volunteering his efforts, any money donated is an investment in something that will not only be productive, but beautiful also; fulfilling Andrew’s vision of an oasis in the city; a gathering spot for those who love both the heritage of Pentridge, and its promise for tomorrow.

If you’d like to get involved with the garden or make a donation, visit the Pentridge Community Garden Facebook page or morelandcommunitygardening.org. You can also donate here.
For all sponsorship enquiries, please email hello.pentridge@morelandcommunitygardening.org

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