September saw the welcome return of Wen’s popular seasonal gatherings, with the Tower Hamlets Food Growing Network coming together at Southern Grove Community Centre, on the theme of Growing Hope. After an 18-month break, we were excited to get together again to hear about how community gardens have withstood the challenges of the pandemic and how they’re growing hope for the future.
Old and new friends joined us in celebrating the coming of Autumn, kicking off with a range of stalls including homegrown produce from E1 Community Gardeners, exciting environmental education opportunities in the area from Get Out, homemade jams and chutneys, plus Cranbrook Gardens and Honufa’s plant sale creating a mini forest in the hall!
We were joined by a brilliant panel of speakers who are stewards of community gardens at varying stages. They helped answer common starter questions: How do you set up a community garden? Where does the funding come from? What are the benefits of a community garden?
Helenka from Silas Yard extolled the benefits of the Japanese composting method Bokashi, and inspired us with her story of taking down the fence between her garden and her neighbour’s garden during lockdown and creating a community garden project and social enterprise in their combined backyard.
In another example of connection and community, we learned how Mile End Community Garden provided a place of solace for neighbours during lockdown. Arising out of the Extinction Rebellion movement, Nic and Mandy set up the garden based on permaculture design principles on a piece of neglected land next to a busy London road. Activism is at the heart of what they do, and together they grow crops but importantly they also build skills, knowledge, biodiversity, resilience and hope for the future.
Tom Bradford, former head gardener at Victoria Park, oversaw the transformation of the “soulless tarmac” in the middle of his estate in Ambrose Walk into a beautiful space fit for resting, playing, and growing and harvesting produce. The pandemic hit just after the garden was completed, but the estate residents were able to come outside and get to know their neighbours through cultivating and enjoying their new space. The success of this garden has led to a partnership with a forthcoming Trees for Citiesproject.
Tasnim’s talk took us to Walthamstow where, inspired by volunteering on growing projects and her mum’s gardening, she started a community allotment just as lockdown was lifting. She highlighted her wish to share the multiple benefits people and the land gain from gardening, but also considered the barriers in setting up a community garden such as confidence, admin, funding, and the lack of representation within horticulture.
Some of her top tips were:
- Get to know your caretaker/ recognise your role as caretaker
- Tap into networks for people who can help with things you know less about e.g. governance
- Having a team makes a massive difference
- You don’t need to have a plan straight away. Spending time with the land gradually gives us a clearer picture
- Even if you are not good at gardening, gardening is good for you!
After the talks we had three great workshops led by local facilitators: Alice Ashton guided us through how we can create social and environmental resilience through planting in the city; Sal Chebbah delivered a fun and fascinating mushroom growing workshop; and Honufa Islam demonstrated how to propagate houseplants, so that participants were able to take home cuttings that they had made. For those who wanted to stretch their legs, Beth took a group out to enjoy the Autumn sunshine in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park just around the corner.
While we enjoyed a fresh and delicious lunch prepared on site and served by TATI from the social enterprise OTIJ-JO, Paul Wilson from East End Homes entertained us with his announcements of our raffle prize winners.
Check out more of OTIJ-JO’s wonderful work here.
We had the privilege of having our speakers from earlier in the day, Tom, Nic and Mandy, give us a tour of the restful and abundant gardens they helped to create at Ambrose Walk and Mile End Community Garden, and generously allowed us to pick some veg to take home with us. We even found a box of russet apples somebody was giving away on their doorstep on the way!
Thanks to everybody who came to the gathering and made it such an enjoyable event, we hope everyone got the opportunity to make connections and was inspired with new ideas on growing hope for the future.
We still have a few spaces left on some of our free and popular Autumn Workshops, so check out our Eventbrite Page.
See you at the next gathering!
Special thanks to Paul Wilson, Billy and Mary from East End Homes for generously offering the Southern Grove Community Centre for us to use. Photos used with kind permission from Colin Baldwin, Tom Bradford, Nic and Mandy, Tasnim Sultanah, Josh and Jo.