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Exclusive: Asylum seekers to help turn bowling green into Glasgow's first flower farm

A disused bowling green in the West End is to be cultivated and turned over to the production of commercial cut flowers in the first community project of its kind in the city.

The innovative not-for-profit venture is to be located at Burnbank Bowling Club in the Woodlands area, next to the University of Glasgow's St Andrews Building.

As part of the plans, asylum seekers are getting involved with local volunteers to transform the green space from sporting use to horticulture.

For people from countries such as Iran and Eritrea, the project offers an environment to integrate with local people, learn the English language and exercise skills while their applications are being processed.

Watch: Dear Green Flower Farm is to start cultivating a disused green in the West End in the autumn

The flower farm would make use of one of two greens at the bowling club which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

A raised green would be retained for members but a lower green which has remained unused for the last 12 years and is heavily mossed over would be used to grow cut flowers for sale.

The change of use answers issues facing many other sports clubs and local communities in Glasgow and other towns and cities throughout Scotland and the UK; dwindling memberships forcing members to seek new ways to look after their space or raise money; and community projects searching for green space in areas where land for growing is scarce.

Jane Tomlinson is a musician and former garden designer behind the Dear Green Flower Farm project.

Help: Asylum seekers welcome the chance to carry out voluntary work preparing ground for the flower farm

She says the proposals have the blessing of Glasgow City Council and sportscotland. A formal application to change the use of the green is expected shortly.

She told Glasgow West End Today: "The Burnbank Bowling Club is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year in quite a special way because it has opened its doors to us - Dear Green Flower Farm - to start an inner-city flower farm here.

"Our project is to start a commercial cut flower farm. We are also going to be growing foliage to go with the flowers."

Celebration: Burnbank Bowling Club celebrates its 150th anniversary this year

She added: "The idea is to introduce lots of Scottish garden flowers that we used to see in flower shops and don't any more, and also to reintroduce scented flowers, things like Lily of the Valley and plants with lovely names like Hattie's Pincushion."

She added: "There are two bowling greens. The top one is beautifully maintained by the club for their matches and the bottom one hasn't been properly looked after for 12 years because it was surplus and it has gone a bit out of condition.

"We have been given this bowling green to permanently make it into a flower field with the blessing of various authorities.

"Now it just needs the formal planning application to go in."

Jane has teamed up with a charity in Garnethill working with refugees and asylum seekers, who are providing volunteers for the project.

She said: "It is very central to the project that we are offering something for asylum seekers to do whilst they go through the interminable process of waiting for papers, and they are not allowed to work.

"So it's productive and fun and of interest to them to learn English, but most important of all to meet the people who live here."

Disused: One of two greens at Burnbank will be turned over to flower production

Cultivation of the bowling green is not proposed to start until the autumn. In the meantime, workers are busy clearing other areas around the substantial grounds that are being given over by the club to the flower project.

Burnbank Bowling Club president Jim Steele said he had been delighted to accept Jane's proposals to tend the site when she approached him several months back.

He said: "Jane came to me about three months ago with a venture to tidy up the blowing green. We gave her two or three ideas what to do and about four different places to dig away at.

"The place has already improved ten-fold, and if she keeps at it with the workers she has got the place is going to be as it was 20 or 30 years ago when he had umpteen clubs members who would do the work themselves.

"Nowadays there's only myself and one or two others to try and keep this place tidy, which is virtually impossible.

"Jane has been a blessing in disguise to come along here."

Blessing: Burnbank president Jim Steele welcomes the boost the flower farm will give the bowls club

He said: "When I joined the bowling club more than 30 years ago we had the two bowling greens and the membership was in the region of 200, of which 30 to 40 were ladies who used the top green. The bottom green was the gents' green.

"Over the years the membership has decreased from 200 to what we have now, 40 members unfortunately. We have a great area here and the membership for a full year is less than what you pay to go to a football match, so anyone who wants to join is more than welcome to come along."

Jane, who is a musician who moved back from England several years ago where she also worked as a garden designer and had her own business, said: "I am very grateful to all the people who have helped us get this far in such a short space of time.

"A huge thank you to Glasgow City Council, Jobs and Business Glasgow, and also Garnethill Community Centre.

"Now we have a long list of asylum seekers who would like to take part and now we are looking for a long list of Glaswegians and locals who would also like to take part, so come on in.

"I have always been crazy about gardening and I have been dreaming about a flower farm for over 15 years."

Scented: Lily of the Valley is among the kind of flowers the project wants to grow at the bowling club

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "We are supportive of this project in principle, and at this stage our planning officers are looking to establish whether or not a (change of use) planning application will be necessary for the club to submit."

A sportscotland spokesman said: "sportscotland were consulted on Burnbank Bowling Club giving one of its two greens to a garden community project. We are satisfied that there is a sufficient number of other bowling greens in the area, including those used during the Commonwealth Games at Kelvingrove Park, to ensure there are ample facilities to cater for the sport in Woodside."

Presently, volunteers are being invited to help out on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturdays.

Anyone interested in helping can contact Jane at info@deargreenflowerfarm.com

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