What it takes to grow a valley-wide wildflower network

A white man with sunglasses stands laughing in front of a field of wildflowersMark Dempsey, architect of the Calderdale Corridor of Colour, is retiring this Summer. He has been a huge supporter of Grow Wild over the years, so we thought it fitting to explore the legacy he leaves, picking up a few pearls of wisdom along the way.

I step out of Hebden Bridge train station and am quickly whisked away by Mark and his colleague Steve for a day-long tour of over twenty exemplary planted wildflower sites.

From newly established urban sites, reclaimed from areas flooded in Winter 2015, to well-established parks and community gardens, Mark and his team have achieved this, and so much more, during his time at Calderdale Council.

What brings it all together, as I saw during my last visit, is the way Mark has brought members of the community together to take pride in where they live.

Colourful sign painted with vegetables and the words Bridge End Community Garden Brighouse

Connecting the community in Calderdale

The Corridor is in good hands as Mark leaves this summer, with veteran community growers being joined by new groups who want to extend the corridor to their part of Calderdale.

There’s Martyna, who joins us on the tour and is gathering a group in Hebden Bridge to develop more sites alongside her work on Redacre Growing Project, which she’s been involved with since moving to the area several years ago.

We also meet Sandra and John who have been instrumental at Incredible Edible’s Brighouse in Bloom for many years, maintaining the site and keeping it blooming!

And in Sourby Bridge we meet Sue, who recently floated the idea of a local Wildflower Collective, which recruited over 50 members in its first week of operation, a fantastic testament to how well Mark has raised the profile of wildflowers in Calder Valley.

Sharing expertise

Mark has a great willingness to help and to share the expertise he’s developed during his time with the council. You can see this even during our visit.

Whether it’s an impromptu detour to help water plants at Bridge End Community Garden, or taking time to connect volunteers like Martyna and Sue to the wider growing network in Calder Valley, Mark’s enthusiasm has been instrumental to the success of these projects.

He hasn’t limited himself to Calderdale. Over the last two years, Mark has actively supported many of the Grow Wild wildflower growers through our Facebook group – answering questions and suggesting solutions based on his own experience.

And it’s clear that even in retirement, Mark will continue to share his skills wherever he can.

A man's back as he looks at a field of wildflowers

Celebrating each success

It’s been a long journey since Mark created his first wildflower site in Calderdale in 2006 on the Hebble Trail. Since then has gone on to create and support the creation of hundreds of sites across the Calder Valley.

As we head to the last site of the day, I ask him what he’s proudest of.

“That I got to establish the Corridor of Colour,” he says, after a moment’s thought. It’s clear Mark knows there’s something special about the area he’s worked in for several decades, encouraging both local residents and business to collaborate.

So what advice would he give to anyone hoping to spread a bit of colour where they live?

“It’s hard to change minds,” he says, “But each small success is a stepping stone.”

Mark’s approach has been always to show the benefits of wildflowers by creating beautiful sites and using these to shape the next opportunity.

Looking at the number of new wildflower areas being created it’s safe to say that approach will leave a long-lasting, colourful legacy.

wildflower field ringed by a wall

Do you want to learn how to grow wildflowers? Sign up to learn how this Autumn!

Add comment