A new Armed Forces Community Garden at Hillfield Park in Solihull was unveiled on Friday 20 May thanks to a collaboration between the Royal British Legion Warwickshire & Birmingham County and Solihull Council.
The garden was officially opened by the Vice Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, Professor Helen Higson OBE, the Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Ken Meeson, the President of Warwickshire and Birmingham County Royal British Legion (RBL), Elaine Butler and six Armed Forces Veterans. Veterans included people who had recently been badly injured during service, or who had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or who had lost relatives in active service.
Although the Garden has been open since last summer, the official opening and celebrations have been postponed twice because of Covid restrictions. Two years in the making, RBL Warwickshire & Birmingham County and Solihull Council have worked in collaboration to construct and create a unique outdoor garden space for the Armed Forces community and their families to visit and enjoy in Solihull. The Armed Forces Community Garden was commissioned to provide a place of reflection, relaxation, and inspiration for veterans, currently serving, the injured, sick, and wounded and their families. It will also be enjoyed by the local community.
Designed in cooperation with the military community, the local RBL County Committee and Solihull Council recognised a need for a space that met specific needs within the military community – not a place of Remembrance - but a place that exudes hope, healing habitats, and provides an environment that aids and promotes the wellbeing of the Armed Forces community through nature-based activities.
Elaine Butler, President of the Warwickshire & Birmingham County RBL explained: “This garden is in no way a memorial garden, but a space that provides a therapeutic and natural environment for people to explore. Areas such as the sensory wildlife garden, the summer meadow and the newly-planted woodland has enabled us to create an engaging outdoor space that aims to aid physical and mental wellbeing and seated areas in garden also ensure peaceful surroundings for relaxation and reflection.
“We are so grateful that we were able to bring such an ambitious eco-therapy project to life with Solihull Council and for them to gift this space to the needs of the military community. We want everyone to enjoy such a wonderful and calming space and we hope it aids with recovery, mental health and brings people together.”
The Mayor of Solihull, Cllr Ken Meeson, thanked everyone who had been involved in designing and making the garden as well as all the people involved in the opening event. He said: “This beautiful award-winning garden has been created to provide a place for reflection for the Armed Forces community and local people, a unique outdoor space that everyone can enjoy. It has been a labour of love involving the Royal British Legion, members of the Armed Forces, staff from the council’s public realm and landscape team* and our contractors. I would like to thank all those involved in making this garden along with the many people involved in the opening event.”
The opening event on Friday 20 May included –
Welcome and Introduction from Elaine Butler, President of Warwickshire and Birmingham County Royal British Legion
March on of Royal British Legion and Association Standards
March Past by the Military- HMS Forward, 30 Signal Regiment and RAF Cosford Salute taken by Vice Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands Professor Helen Higson OBE
Music from Monkspath Junior and Infant School Choir, City of Birmingham Brass Band, Chandos Choir of Solihull and the Boogaloo Babes
There were also speeches from the Vice Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands Professor Helen Higson OBE and the Mayor of Solihull Councillor Ken Meeson who formally opened the Gardens with six members of the military - Albert Price a 96 year-old D Day Landing Veteran; Ben Parkinson MBE, the most wounded British soldier from the conflict in Afghanistan; Neill Marshall is a Veteran whose brother was killed on active service; Vince Hockley who was ambushed while on patrol in Afghanistan with four colleagues – they were all shot and one was killed; Steve Rice who was wounded in an explosion in Afghanistan; Terry Barnett who has suffered with mental health issues as a result of PTSD and has been supported to recovery by RBL.
There is an Armed Forces Community Garden activities group which holds tea and chats and is involved in gardening and painting at the Garden. Anyone wanting to get involved should contact Solihull Council’s Planting Our Future team at Plantingourfuture@solihull.gov.uk
The Armed Forces Community Garden, delivered by Balfour Beatty Living Places for Solihull Council, was crowned winner of the Judges’ Award at the Institution of Civil Engineers West Midlands Awards earlier this month.
*The Garden was designed by Solihull Council’s Conservation of the Historic Environment, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Ecology Team (CLAUDE). Although the Garden’s primary purpose is to provide a place for reflection, it also supports the council’s environmental and biodiversity targets and received funding from the Wildlife Ways project, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.