Gardening helped change my life says tenant Ellie

Friday June 9th 2023

Gorebridge garden

Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

A keen amateur gardener from Gorebridge, Midlothian, who suffers from a rare neurological condition, has urged residents of Midlothian to get their hands dirty as Melville Housing Association launches this year’s Great gardens contest.

Ellie Cairns (48) volunteers at the community garden at the Gorebridge Beacon and is keen for others to see for themselves the difference gardening can make to the body and mind.

“I was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia around 20 years ago,” explained Ellie. “It’s a progressive disease that affects the way the brain processes things like movement and balance, and for a few years it really took over my life. For the first four years I was more or less bed-bound and after that it took two years of physio to get me walking again. Those were tough times.”

Ellie, a Melville tenant since 1999, had little experience of gardening until just a few years ago. It was only when lockdown struck, and outdoor activity took on such importance, that she discovered opportunities at the Beacon’s community garden, the inspiration of local volunteer Ann Dunn, who helped set up Gorebridge Community Gardeners to help people get back in touch with nature and to add some joy and beauty to the village.

“I’m naturally quite a shy person but volunteering at the garden has really helped with my confidence as well as my mental and physical health,” continued Ellie. “I’m on my own for much of the day so getting down to the garden and helping out is really good for me. I’ll never overcome my problems, this is a condition that I have to live with, but I’m learning to live my best life with the cards I’ve been dealt and I couldn’t have done it without gardening.”

The garden at the Beacon is a great success story of the pandemic, with the most recent addition being a growing shed, paid for entirely by funds raised by Ann and her team of volunteers through a series of fundraising events and completed following a small contribution of £300 from Melville Housing. Melville previously funded a thinking bench for the garden’s quite corner, accessible thanks to an all-access disability path, laid by Melville’s main repairs contractor Novus Property Solutions.

“I’m no expert gardener,” said Ellie. “But what I would say to anyone is don’t be afraid to learn as you go. You’ll make mistakes but that’s part of the journey. Mistakes lead to other opportunities. I would encourage everyone to get their hands dirty and give it a try. Whether in your own garden or by helping out at somewhere like the Beacon. Don’t let your health stop you.”

Melville’s Great gardens contest is open to Melville tenants and members of their households. Whether you have your own garden or not, this year is the perfect opportunity to enter because as well as the £100 first prize, there’s also a prize for the best use of a small space. This might be a balcony, a patio or simply hanging baskets at a front or back door.

To enter Melville tenants should send an email to by 5pm Friday 11 August.

Judging will take place in late August and winners will be announced in September.

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