A FIFE gardening group has been praised for providing a vital Covid-19 lifeline for those struggling with loneliness and disability.

Falkland Gardening Group (previously Falkland in Bloom) had been operating for 35 years and during lockdown came to the fore as a community saviour for many isolated locals.

With more than 50 members, volunteers use the group’s three polytunnels, two raised beds and 14 allotments in the village’s 'Sugar Acre Garden' to grow chillies, peppers, melons, physalis, plus an impressive list of fruit and veg.

Excess produce is donated to the wider community, while the tunnels are also used to propagate small plants for the village floral displays.

In the midst of the pandemic, the garden evolved into a place of safety for those in Falkland who suffered from loneliness and disability by offering socially distanced spaces to meet.

Now, just how the Falkland Gardening Group worked with the local landowner to use the land is being showcased as an inspiring community project in the Scottish Land Commission’s MyLand.Scot campaign – an online initiative aiming to highlight the many benefits that land brings to communities around Scotland.

Local resident, Yvonne Purves, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 12 years ago and was offered a custom-built raised flowerbed by the group to help her with her disability during the pandemic.

She said: “Falkland Gardening Group has played an incredible role in my mental and physical health during the pandemic. Not only has the group created a safe space for me to socialise but it has also offered me a way to stay active during such a tough time.

“Exercise is key in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s, so when I was offered a custom-made area, I was overwhelmed. I now offer up my fresh produce to family and the local community.”

A registered Scottish charity, the gardening group was founded in 1987 and uses land owned by local estate owner, Ninian Crichton Stuart, with the aim of improving the Falkland area with both a horticultural and community focus.

Catriona Parkes, another gardening group member who benefitted massively throughout lockdown, added: “As a retiree living solo in Falkland, things got very lonely during the pandemic. I was very lucky to have the garden as an outlet where I could keep busy and see others safely.”

Doug Young, chairman of Falkland Gardening Group, helped to build the first polytunnel in the 1990s and continues to direct the group.

He said: “The pandemic has been the biggest challenge we’ve faced since forming the group. We managed to turn the tables and use it as a force for good, giving people options to get outside and do something to improve their mental and physical wellbeing."

Gregor Milne, vice-chair of the group, worked closely with Falkland House School and invited young people with autism, ADHD and additional support needs to use the facilities at Sugar Acre, enabling essential development of social skills.

Hamish Trench, chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission, said: “It’s brilliant to showcase the Falkland Gardening Group in the MyLand.Scot campaign as yet another example of the way land can be positively used around the country.

“The gardening group had been doing such good work for years and highlighted how a gardening project can have such a wide-spanning list of benefits for all sorts of people within a single community, showing how land can improve day-to-day lives in so many more ways than most of us think.

“The MyLand.Scot campaign hopes to bring awareness to the possibilities land can have around the country. Ranging from housing to giving people the means and confidence to build businesses and communities, land can play an active role in everyday Scotland.”

Launched in 2021, MyLand.Scot is an initiative designed to increase the Scottish public’s participation in land reform through a series of case studies, information pages and a brand-new podcast, The Lay of the Land.