It's beyond just bricks and mortar

My name is Ian Douthwaite and I am a proud and happy tenant of Eden Housing Association, based in Penrith, based in the market town of in Cumbria.

I became a tenant of E.H. in 1999, prior to that my wife & I managed rural pubs on behalf of breweries, but the changes in Government legislation in the 90’s limited breweries to the amount of tied houses they could own and large tracts of pub estates were sold off making many managers redundant, so Pauline and I found ourselves not only without a job, but the accommodation that went with it. We approached E.H. concerned about impending homelessness and with a young family in tow, the association were brilliant and we were offered a house at Kirkby Thore a rural village to the east of Penrith

I returned to being a freelance chef, working in hotels and restaurants around the Eden Valley and further afield within the motorsport hospitality business. We had 10 happy years at Kirkby Thore, bringing up our family (of whom we are very proud). 

However there was a fly in the ointment when Pauline was diagnosed with an illness that was to become life changing, eventually compromising her mobility. She was advised that gardening would help her condition in the short term; getting her outside and some gentle exercise, the garden was to become Pauline’s pride and joy.

However change was becoming inevitable:  Our kids moved onto college, jobs and homes of their own, Pauline’s mobility was getting worse, our house, with 3 bedrooms, stairs & bath was becoming more difficult for Pauline to manage.

I at this time gave up work to become Pauline’s carer, and we approached E.H. to discuss the possibility of transferring to a more suitable home. The association staff where once again superb, spending time discussing our requirements, which were a suitably adapted home, close to our kids, rural location, and our all important garden.  We were given a list of suitable locations and had a drive round the areas; a shortlist was drawn up of suitable locations.

In 2010 we were offered a move to Castle Gardens, Greystoke. A modest little bungalow that would turn out to be life changing for us, adapted to suit Pauline’s needs, with access ramp, flat throughout, and a wet room, this house gave Pauline back her independence and dignity, being able to shower and use the loo independently makes a huge difference to a person’s life.

And we had that all important garden, when we moved it was all lawn, with a huge layandii tree,  although Pauline by now was unable to do much work around the garden, she mobilised me to create a lovely garden an area to relax and enjoy.

I found I really quite enjoyed this gardening lark. So in 2011 I found myself signed up to a tenant training course run in conjunction with E.H.A. and Newton Rigg College, our local agricultural college. I really enjoyed the course, learned a lot in a relaxed atmosphere and met lots of like minded tenants. After the 2012 course I had a chat with the teaching staff at N.R. and they suggested I come along to one of their open evening. So in 2013 I found myself signed up to do a B Tec diploma in Horticulture, one day a week for 2 years, it provided me with a rest bite day from my carers duties. I loved the course; we were taught soil and plant science, garden history, landscaping skills and Garden design. During this time E.H. asked me about doing a concept design for a dementure/sensory garden for their new Heysham Garden assisted housing complex this dovetailed nicely with Garden Design module.  I also around this time acquired an allotment in the village, on the Castle Gardens Estate, for the princely sum of £5/year, allowing us to grow our own fruit and vegetables.

Moving up to date 2015 has been quite a year for me, I helped E.H.A. to promote their gardening courses, I also assisted the college in actually delivering the course to my fellow tenants.  As part of my course I also had to do a work placement, I managed to get a placement in the gardens of River Cottage, possibly the most iconic organic kitchen garden in the country, a dream placement for a retired chef. I also completed my course at N.R. passing with a double distinction.

Just recently I was asked to give a presentation of my story to the Placeshapers conference in London to help promote the Proud Tenants day. I also managed to sneak in a visit to Kew Gardens during my time in London, something I have been trying to do for some time.

So I have a lot to thank E.H.A. for they have helped my family in times need, assisted us when Pauline’s illness made things difficult, massively changing our standard of life. And inspiring me to go onto further education, improving my knowledge in a subject I have grown to love.

And I hope in a small way I have also given a little bit back...