A COMMUNITY project to develop pop-up gardens in unlikely locations in a County Durham town is reaping the benefits of a successful first year.

The seeds of the Veg Out in Barney scheme were sown when planting started at Startforth Primary School in spring 2013.

Since then, 19 help-yourself gardens have been set up across Barnard Castle, with about 30 fruit trees also planted and numerous other fruit bushes taking root.

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However, the highlight of a productive 12 months has been the launch of a town farm.

Veg Out in Barney is the idea of the town’s Rotary Club and was set up in collaboration with Deerbolt Young Offenders Institute.

The scheme involves prisoners, who propagate seeds, print signs and support the volunteers involved.

The Teesdale Conservation Volunteers (known locally as Rotters) are also involved with the project.

It aims to follow in the footsteps of the Pennine town Todmorden, where a similar scheme has transformed the way food is produced and how residents think about the environment.

The help-yourself garden boxes dotted around Barnard Castle are just that – a place where people can take fresh produce.

The town farm initiative is transforming a piece of waste ground at The Hub, in Barnard Castle.

Volunteers secured £5,000 in grants from county councillors Barbara Harrison and George Richardson to help fund the town farm scheme.

The idea is to attract more people to The Hub and work with all ages - especially school children - to learn about propagating plants and gain a better understanding of a healthy diet.

Rotarian Ann Barmby, who has been involved with Veg Out in Barney since its inception, said the town farm had received widespread support from businesses keen to support volunteers’ efforts.

“The Esh Group has offered to assist us in purchasing materials for The Hub farm project at advantageous rates, so making our funds go further.

“Groundwork has donated fruit trees, fruit bushes, compost, seed trays and netting.”

Developer Taylor Wimpey, which is currently building a large housing estate in Barnard Castle, even sent a JCB and driver to clear The Hub farm site, created an access and donated 40 tons of chippings for the surface.

Dr Barmby said Veg Out in Barney had also been well received by residents and visitors.

“People are now picking and using the produce. We have noted what is being used and what is being left so that we can plant appropriately.

“We need to encourage people to take ownership of the sites, maintaining and planting in them so it becomes their project, not ours.”

Despite the public nature of the project, there have been few problems with those intent on causing trouble.

“The only vandalism we have experienced over the year amounts to the loss of two rosemary bushes,” said Dr Barmby.

In the meantime, the work continues.

“We have expanded both the Green Lane School site and the Demesnes and intend to improve the Zetland Road plot,” added Dr Barmby.

“The Barnard Castle Guides have now got a raised bed at their headquarters and we hope to get the Beavers involved in the near future.”