As with almost all charities, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe effect on our activities. At the end of 2019, with the support of our generous donors, we made good progress in getting the project back on track only for work to be brought to an abrupt halt when the pandemic struck. Since March 2020 all training had to stop due not only to the restrictions of Lockdown 1 but also due to the need to work in close proximity to the visually impaired, guiding and helping them, so that adhering to subsequent safety requirements was impossible. We were unable to raise funds through the sale of plants because of restrictions concerning retail outlets and fundraising through planned Open Days had to be cancelled. The school remained open for students of key-worker parents and in spring students were able to visit the garden and discuss historical and horticultural matters under the supervision of teachers.
A garden is no respecter of pandemics and regulations and while continuing with planting, nurturing and maintenance we were able to take advantage of lockdown by undertaking planned infrastructure work. This involved many discussions with local authorities, police and the school for each planned project and, although progress was inevitably slow, permission was always eventually granted. Electricity has been restored to the site, the greenhouse roof has been repaired and disabled access over the threshold to the garden has been installed. Erection of the workshop and covered working area was postponed again and again due to the ever-changing availability of contractors but was finally completed in August. When training of the visually impaired is allowed to recommence trainees will have a sheltered place to work in inclement weather and, with electricity restored, working hours can increase. Raised beds are in place to make access for those with impaired mobility easier.
The school reopened temporarily in September 2019 and, given the additional educational benefits it could provide, we brought forward plans to install the weather station in the garden. Students of the school’s alternative education hub were delighted to be able to help with installation of one of the data collection points. Alternative education is now able to include the complexities of the Beaufort scale and wind speed, changes in air pressure, temperature, daylight and rainfall and how these impact on plant life, wildlife and the environment. Trainees will eventually benefit from similar teaching. The station is also linked to the Met Office in Exeter as one of its response points.
Thanks to the support of our donors we have been able to maintain progress on planned infrastructure elements and keep the project ticking over until the situation improves. Groundwork for the polytunnel has begun and plants for the sensory garden have been planted out. As we have no staff costs, our running costs can be kept as low as possible although some, such as insurance, are unavoidable. Lockdown 3 brought everything except maintenance and infrastructure to a halt once again and with Covid-19 numbers still very high in the South West only students are currently able to benefit from sessions in the garden. However, with the vaccination and booster programmes well on the way to completion we hope that we will be able to resume training the visually impaired as early as possible in the new year.