Planting ideas


Inner London is probably not the first place you would look if you
were trying to find gardening and parkland projects but there are
many throughout the city.

Some, such as those featured here, have received grants from the
British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). This is the UK’s
largest practical conservation charity that works with more than
130,000 volunteers every year to help improve the rural and urban

The money was awarded under the trust’s People’s Places award
scheme which is open to community groups. It is targeted at
disadvantaged groups and those living in deprived areas, and helps
people to make a difference by creating or improving a
“people’s place” in their community. In order to be
eligible, groups must be able to show the potential environmental
and community benefits of the regeneration of a piece of land or a
building. The projects featured show the different ways this can
happen and the different people who can take part.

Asylum seekers and refugees

The snarling tone of traffic and wall-to-wall metal as far as
the eye can see are common features of Vauxhall Cross, one of the
main junctions into central London. But tucked away just a few
metres from the MI5 building and a stone’s throw from the
River Thames there is an oasis among a stagnant sea of

Vauxhall City farm in south London is as urban as it gets. As
well as being home to a number of animals, the farm has a riding
area and an allotment. Every Monday and Friday this is home to the
Garden Project, a scheme for refugees and asylum seekers to grow
food which they can then take home and cook.

The project, which is funded by the Community Fund, is run by
Amanda Rew, a gardener by trade. In the early days, it began in May
2002, Rew contacted groups to ask them if they would like to get
involved in the project and individuals and groups now come from
local organisations such as The Refugee Support Centre and the
Refugee Council.

One group of Bengali women, who come down from the nearby
Rockingham estate in Elephant and Castle, are such keen gardeners
that they have been given an allotment of their own at the farm.
“We don’t want disputes over whose pumpkin is whose; it can
get ugly down there,” Rew smiles. As well as cooking their
produce at home the women cook at the allotment when social events
take place.

Rew explains that the farm decided to set up the project as
refugees and asylum seekers were underrepresented in its
activities. Although it’s officially for these groups, she
says that people with learning difficulties also join in and that
everyone is welcome.
As well as the allotment, people are invited to get involved in
other farm activities. “A part of the idea is that people
come to the allotment and get to take part in any areas they are
interested in,” says Rew. “The incentive for them is that
they can come and grow stuff.”

The allotment itself is a small, wheelchair accessible C-shaped
space. It is one of a group of 15 allotments that are rented out by
Lambeth residents. Visitors are provided with seeds and tools and
can grow a wide range of crops, including sweet corn, chillies,
coriander, spinach, squashes and calloo. 

The project’s own building, made from recycled materials,
is nearby and was built by volunteers last May, some of whom were
refugees and asylum seekers. It was funded by a BTCV People’s
Places award of £8,500.

Rew sees the project as giving refugees and asylum seekers new
skills and confidence that will help lead them into employment.
“One of the volunteers who took part in constructing the
building was an Algerian man who had not worked for about six years
and did not have the confidence to leave the house for a
while,” she says. “He came to the project every single
day and is now going to work as a volunteer at the farm doing admin
and book-keeping that will hopefully lead to qualifications and

The project has also run some activities for up to 16 people
with The Refugee Support Centre, and go outside the farm. Rew
explains how these have involved trips around London and on the
river to help people to build up confidence and get to know the
city. “There were even people who had not explored Lambeth at
all,” she says.

The project also helps refugees and asylum seekers to improve
their language skills by running an English for Speakers of Other
Languages (ESOL) course at the farm, taught by a teacher from
nearby Lambeth College. Rew explains that anyone who does the class
in the morning can get involved in the allotment in the afternoon,
if they want to. The course aims to provide people with basic
language skills and runs for a term. It is free of charge and
travel expenses are covered.

Rew started working on the city farm four and a half years ago.
She also used to support a neighbouring tenant with learning
difficulties. “We used to do a bit of gardening,” she

For the rest of the week Rew does horticultural training with
socially excluded teenagers on a scheme entitled Roots and Shoots
also based in south London. The scheme has a plant nursery and a
heated greenhouse and Rew says her link between the two projects is
useful as she can sometimes start vegetables for the allotment off
in the greenhouse.

Many other initiatives take place at the farm such as a riding
project for disabled children and an art project. Rew explains that
it’s the animals that are at the heart of the farm with the
allotment being a useful offshoot which, as well as all of its
other benefits, uses up the manure.

Ex-offenders with mental health problems

“It was a complete mess before,” says Ian Boggis, 52, a tenant
at supported housing provided by the Penrose Housing Association,
describing one of the gardens he volunteered to help improve.

The garden is a part of the Akerman project ran by the
association which involved tenants doing gardening at one of its
supported housing sites. Work on the garden began in January last
year and it had its official opening in September. Penrose provides
rehabilitation and community integration services for ex-offenders
with mental ill health. They have about 40 tenants in supported
housing around Brixton, south London.

“I have made a patio, put down new paving stones and pebbles and
put in new benches for seating at Akerman,” explains Boggis, one of
three tenants involved in the work supported by staff. He lives at
the association’s Fairmount site, where work to create another
garden begins at the end of January. Any tenant who wants to have
an active part in the gardening work will be encouraged to do

Boggis explains that he has helped other tenants to get
involved. “I have chosen to do it. It gives me pleasure to see
something that I can do for them and help them to get out a bit and
do something they want to do. It gives them an extra boost,” he

Verena Hewat, education, training and employment co-ordinator at
Penrose, says that as well as giving the tenants a pleasant area to
sit outside in, the gardens will also provide them with
opportunities to socialise with each other.

She explains how questionnaires were sent out to all the tenants
at Fairmount asking them how they would like the garden to be
improved. Many tenants responded and said they wanted more space to
sit outside in the summer and a BBQ; wishes that will soon be
granted with work due to be completed by summer 2004.

It was Boggis, a volunteer with BTCV for two years now, who told
Penrose about the People’s Places award scheme. It received
£7,700 to spend on improving some of its gardens in Lambeth,
including Akerman and Fairmount. Boggis has worked on other
projects as well and says his gardening work has enabled him to
meet a lot of people. “Some of them have turned out to be
really good friends,” he says.

He recollects a kids’ day at Streatham Vale Park, south
London, where one of the project leaders asked him to do a
demonstration. “She said, ‘Ian will you please show
them how to plant bulbs?’” he says. “That was
absolutely brilliant for me because I had never shown anyone how to
do anything before…then before I knew it there was a big

Penrose’s gardening projects aims to promote education, training
and employment opportunities and provide support for tenants to
carry out meaningful weekly-programmed activities. It also provides
tenants with opportunities to apply for work within Penrose’s
in-house employment programme where they are given the opportunity
of real employment under the government’s supported permitted work

“Gardening is good at building confidence and social
skills, and the therapeutic value is great for stress
relief,” says Hewat. She explains how the projects are of
particular value for Penrose’s tenants as many of them may not have
done any training for some time and can therefore find large groups

She says that the scheme can act as a stepping stone allowing
them to go on to external colleges or training agencies in the
community. Several of the scheme’s tenants have progressed on to
working for other BCTV projects in London.

Learning difficulties

A parkland walk in north London will soon be transformed with a
range of sculptures designed and made in a project run by Action
Space, which works with people with learning difficulties
throughout the capital.

The walk links Gillespie Park and Finsbury Park in the borough
of Islington and the group, comprising of artists with learning
difficulties, has already put mini sculptures into the Islington
Ecology Centre in Gillespie Park.

The sculptures are a part of regeneration of the parkland walk
being managed the Finsbury Partnership, a local organisation. This
has received regeneration money from the government, and the group
is funded by a slice of this and a BTCV People’s Places
award. Action Space receives its core funding from Arts Council

The project has been going for nearly three years. It involves
six local artists who took their inspiration for the sculptures
from Gillespie Park itself.  “We needed to allow time for
people to get used to the area,” says project leader Barbara
van Heel. She explains that artists were able to practise with
different tools and materials before beginning their

Through this process the group came up with the idea of using
railway sleepers chiselled into different shapes and inserted with
ceramic tiles. They are still making the eight sculptures and are
applying for more funding to extend the project for another two
years. “The artists have tons and tons of ideas still
left,” says van Heel.

She explains that Action Space knew that the whole of the
Finsbury Park area was going to be developed and the project grew
out of wanting to help people with learning difficulties to have an
influence. “Action Space recruited this group of artists who
wanted to do something to do with their local area because so often
people with learning difficulties aren’t given any say in
regeneration,” she says.

She sees the project as being less about the art produced than
allowing the artists to work with other people and express
themselves. She describes one male disabled artist in the project
who is autistic, has a hearing impairment and is non-verbal, as
being given another way to communicate through his art.

Contact details

BCTV People’s Places award scheme
The scheme has monthly grant panels and runs until May 2006
Total amount to fund: £6m between 2001-2006
Grants available: £3000 – £10,000
The scheme is funded by the New Opportunities Fund’s Green Spaces
and Sustainable Communities programme, with additional funding and
support from Rio Tinto and English Nature
Tel: 01491 821621

Vauxhall City Farm
24 St Oswald’s Place
SE11 5JE
Tel: 020 7582 4204
Details on the ESOL course held at the farm can be obtained from
this number

The Penrose Housing Association
356 Holloway Road
N7 6PA
Tel: 020 7700 0100

Action Space
Cockpit Arts
Cockpit Yard
Northington Street
Tel: 020 7209 4289 

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