HEARTBROKEN volunteers at a lifeline Glasgow project are pleading with Scotland’s First Minister to step in and safeguard its future after a £50k funding blow.

Four staff members at The Hidden Gardens at the Tramway in Pollokshields have lost their jobs after Lottery bosses halted their support for two vital initiatives.

Those who work and volunteer there say the decision will be a hammer blow to people living in the area who have relied on it for support and companionship over the last two decades.

Around 40 dedicated people who help maintain the much-loved sanctuary on the Southside of the city are also backing calls for Humza Yousaf to intervene.

Volunteer Priya Sankalp-Wilson told the Glasgow Times how the peaceful urban garden helped her to overcome depression.

Glasgow Times: Tam Gilligan, Anne Livingstone, Ann Downie and Priya Sankalp-Wilson.Tam Gilligan, Anne Livingstone, Ann Downie and Priya Sankalp-Wilson. (Image: Colin Mearns)

The 42-year-old, from Barrhead in East Renfrewshire, said: “When I moved here from India, I had no friends and felt very lonely. I was so down and this place helped to bring me back from the brink. 

“The funding cuts mean that there will only be one head gardener left to look after the entire space, which is just impossible given how big it is. The volunteer programme is also ending abruptly, along with the outreach programme which works with eight local schools.

“The fear is that people who give up their spare time to help just won’t return because there’s no-one to co-ordinate them, and the gardens rely heavily on that support. It’s very concerning to think that such a beautiful place that means so much to so many people could just be left to fall away or not be maintained to the level we are used to. There’s just no way that one person can look after the entire space, it’s too much work for a single individual.”

Glasgow Times: The Hidden GardensThe Hidden Gardens (Image: Colin Mearns)

Priya told the Glasgow Times supporters of the project have now decided to rally Scotland’s most senior politician for help.

She explained: “We are devasted that people are losing their jobs, especially during a cost-of-living crisis. That’s why I’m writing to the First Minister, and I will be asking him to come along and visit, so he can see for himself how much the gardens benefit people’s health and wellbeing. We must do everything in our power to protect this much-loved community facility from any further cuts, and in fact push for more help from the government.”

The Hidden Gardens also operates as a venue for events and weddings, as well as hosting weekly men’s groups and exercise classes.

Tam Gilligan started volunteering there five years ago while struggling to cope with the death of his 54-year-old sister Margaret.

Glasgow Times: Tam and PriyaTam and Priya (Image: Colin Mearns)

The 64-year-old, who lives in Pollokshields, told the Glasgow Times that the gardens were a lifeline to him in his darkest hour.

He said: “Not having Margaret around was tough as we were always there for each other. I don’t have any other close family so losing her hit me hard.

“I started slipping into bad habits and drinking more than I should. I knew I had to pull myself together and when I heard about this place I thought ‘why not give it a go’ and I volunteered as a gardener.

“It’s given me focus and a purpose, something to look forward to every week. I no longer feel alone and the friends I’ve made here have become like family to me. I just love it and I’m gutted that our wee group won’t be able to meet here moving forward to continue the work we do.

Glasgow Times: Hidden GardensHidden Gardens (Image: Colin Mearns)

“I’m really going to miss the social aspect, it’s a lifeline to folk like me. I really don’t know what I’ll do without it.”

Anne Livingstone started volunteering at the treasured community resource after becoming isolated during lockdown.

She added: “It’s just such a peaceful and tranquil place and it has helped me to overcome feelings of loneliness during the pandemic. You walk around and feel your troubles melt away.

“Every single person here contributes to maintaining this space. It's upsetting that staff are losing their jobs, that the volunteering programme has come to an abrupt end and schoolchildren will no longer benefit from the educational programmes that were on offer.”

Bosses at the Hidden Gardens, which opened in 2003, only learned recently that their application for its next tranche of Lottery money had been rejected. The project has relied on support from it for several years and the unexpected loss of the £50k of income has forced them to tighten their belts and reduce the services the project will be able to offer going forward, as well as cutting posts. The gardens will remain open, but will now operate under-staffed, according to volunteers.

Margaret Carlyle has been involved with the project for 20 years and says her weekly visits to the garden give her something to look forward to.

Glasgow Times: Margaret CarlyleMargaret Carlyle (Image: Colin Mearns)

The 83-year-old from Castlemilk added: “I became involved with the group after I was widowed. It’s such a magical spot and has got me through some very difficult moments. It’s for people from all walks of life and it’s not just volunteering, it’s giving something back to the community.

“It’s a haven for those like me who are on their own. It’s a safe space where you can potter around and feel like you’re making a difference. The sad part is that others who could benefit from a group like this just won’t get the chance because of funding cuts.

“I’d encourage the First Minister to visit and see first-hand just how vital this project is. Then I would ask him to find a way to offer us more support, save the jobs that have been lost and help reinstate the services that have gone too.”