“Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let’s stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another”. Set to writing by garden columnist and regular contributor for The New York Times Anne Raver, these wise words go a long way to illustrate the philosophy behind ‘Gardens for Life’, the captivating project set in motion by our member organisation Women’s Environmental Network (WEN).
Last April, the charity announced it had been commissioned by the Public Health department at London Borough of Tower Hamlets to devise and create 15 brand new community gardens across the Tower Hamlets Borough. The aim was to engage not only the usual green thumb suspects but, instead, to reach out to residents of all genders, ages and ethnicities so that they could discover the joys that come with being active outdoors and growing and eating their own food.
Helped along by partner entities EastendHomes, Poplar Harca, Tower Hamlets Community Housing, Capital Growth and London Borough of Tower Hamlets, WEN has between April 2014 and July 2015 to bring all 15 spaces into life. Among the charity’s ranks, confidence is high that the project looks set to meet that deadline: 11 gardens out of the 15 envisioned in the original plan have already been set up, a rate of 1 space seeing the light every month, says WEN’s Local Food Project and Fundraising Officer Connie Hunter.
Although all born from the same core, WEN’s 15 gardens are the branches of a robust oak tree; each expanding in a different direction as it inches its way towards the light. For instance, 7 out of 15 gardens will be located on housing estates, Hunter explains, a circumstance that will go a long way in bringing people closer to a space that they all share. The Stifford Centre, another of the areas already being set up, features a health centre where health trainers suggest that their service users get involved in the gardening project to promote health and wellbeing. A mention should also be made of the Cubitt Town Garden, where the focus has been placed on becoming an ‘idea store’, complete with its own kid-friendly library and information centre.
“Projects like ours can make a big difference for people in a London with fewer community spaces”
For an initiative striving to welcome the whole community in, nothing could be better than discovering that it has been able to engage with such a diverse audience. As WEN’s Local Food Project and Fundraising Officer reveals, such is the case with ‘Gardens for Life’. Of the data available on the individuals involved with the project so far, 2 were between 16 and 24 years old; 15 between 25 to 34 years old and another 15 between 34 to 45 years; 12 were between 45 and 54 years old, the same amount that was found for those between 55 to 64 years old; finally, 3 were over 65 years old.
The figures above leave no room for doubt: there seems to be a healthy balance across all age brackets and, according to Hunter, there are so many requests to take part in the project that the organisation has been forced to set up a waiting list of people who want to tag along. However, the future of the project is not secure, as Tower Hamlets Council is considering proposals to recommission ‘Gardens for Life’ while at the same time lowering its funding.
Although Hunter remains understanding towards the councils’ ordeals in making ends meet after the recent cuts – “they are forced to find money to pay for essential services”, she points out –, she believes promoting initiatives such as ‘Gardens for Life’ entails long-term benefits for the whole community. “Projects like ours can make a big difference to people, help them push against the existing trend in London where fewer community spaces are available to them”, she concludes.
Inspired by this project as we at the LCRN were when we heard of it? Then don’t hesitate to check their website and perhaps become a member to support these and similar initiatives.