A community garden in Totnes described as ‘magical’ is facing an uncertain future due to a lack of funds and a shortage of volunteers.

Leechwell Garden is one of the few public open spaces left in the town centre. Called the ‘magical garden’ on a tourist information site due to its wealth of wildlife and natural play areas, Leechwell also stands on the site of an ancient orchard.

It opened in 2010 after a small group of residents successfully resisted plans by South Hams District Council (SHDC) to develop the land to build properties and a multi-storey car park.

Since then, the Leechwell Garden Association (LGA) has reportedly spent almost £200,000 on maintenance and items such as public benches and a play area for children.

But the cash-strapped association has now fallen on hard times and recently had to dispense with the services of a gardener.

LGA member Sue Holmes admitted that the association was running out of funds. “It costs £2,000 per year for the gardener alone, and much more will be needed for the garden’s upkeep going forward,” she said.

LGA chairman David Mitchell called on the local community to get involved with the garden, “not just by donating money but also time”, admitting that the original LGA members “were getting tired” and were in need of new leadership and volunteers.

Speaking to this paper, he gave details of the challenges the association faced, including replacing old park furniture.

“Most of the things in the garden are quite old. The seating was installed when the garden was opened and one of the benches broke about two weeks ago. I personally paid for a replacement, which was £150,” he said.

The benches, made by a local craftsman, originally cost £10,000 in total, while the play structure was even more expensive, costing some £37,000.

The last gardener left in November, Mr Mitchell said, pointing out that hiring someone for such a position also incurs public liability insurance costs. Finding volunteers has also proved to be “incredibly difficult”, while appeals for cash have so far had a limited impact.

SHDC has covered the cost of basic landscaping, but Mr Mitchell said this was not enough. “Most people who come into the garden assume that South Hams does everything, whereas it does virtually nothing apart from cut the grass. They won’t do the sort of gardening maintenance we need,” he said.

The head of SHDC, Julian Brazil, was asked for a response. He said: “We have an excellent rapport with community groups like Leechwell Garden and Kingsbridge in Bloom, but the last thing we want to do is say we’ll look after it and take a liability.

“I would have thought that Leechwell Garden would be the kind of thing we’d be very keen to support, but I would suggest they speak to their local councillors as they have a locality budget they might use - and it comes with no strings attached.”

Cllr Emily Price, mayor of Totnes, said: "The Leechwell Garden is a wonderful space, enjoyed by so many people of all ages and we're very grateful to the Leechwell Garden Association (LGA) volunteers for their tireless work.

“Whilst Leechwell Garden is owned by and the responsibility of South Hams District Council, the Town Council has been in close contact with Sue Holmes for some time to try to find ways we can support her and the other volunteers. We really hope that more people will come forward to help and that South Hams District Council will be able to find new ways to support the LGA financially. As a Town Council, we are in the process of setting budgets for next year which will include grant funding for community groups who make a difference to the lives of local people. Funding applications are likely to open in late spring/early summer and details will be publicised on our website, on social media and sent directly to local community groups. We realise that there are many groups doing many amazing things in our communities but we will try to help as many of them as possible if we can."

The LGA has said it is planning a series of events this year, starting with a family Easter egg hunt on Easter weekend and a £5,000 fundraiser which has been set up at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/leechwellgarden