Using a crowdfunding page, Grow Lewisham set a target of just under £4,500 to carry out their vision of providing skills, knowledge, and resources in an urban area to those who need it most.
They received a pledge of £4,118 from the Mayor of London on March 20, taking the total fundraising to £7,392. This is above the original target and there are still 49 days left as of March 24.
They are currently encouraging locals to express interest and become new volunteers when Covid restrictions are eased to get stuck in with the growing hub.
Grow Lewisham, which was created in 2020, is using a plot in Downham, on Oldstead Road, a residential area in Lewisham near Beckenham Place park, which you can visit.
The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the necessity for green outdoor spaces and issues of food insecurity.
Grow Lewisham is now considering a paid part-time member of staff to manage its current volunteers.
Valerie Goode, one of the team members, said: “At the end of the day councils haven’t had the funding to keep community gardens going but I think they are starting to see the merit in giving these spaces to organisations like us and making use of them.
“The community is backing us, we did very well with the recent Spacehive crowdfunding campaign and I think it’s just a necessary thing now.”
‘Accessibility is number one’
They are working in partnership with Coco Collective, a major group part of the Lewisham Borough of Culture 2022, focused on environmental sustainability and systemic racism discussions.
Accessibility is one of the main focuses of this community garden space.
Goode, who is also part of Coco Collective, said: “Within the BAME community we don’t typically occupy community garden spaces because typically they are occupied by white, male or middle class so accessibility is number one.”
Imogen Slater, a volunteer who works within the fundraising, outreach and partnerships aspects of the project, said community gardens could be “quite exclusive”, which is an idea that the creators of the project are working to change.
Goode said: “An incredible amount of people don’t have access to gardens and that’s something I’ve taken for granted. I’ve always grown up in a house with a garden so I forget that there’s a lot of people who don’t have that so it’s really about opening up the space to those people.
For this reason Grow Lewisham is working alongside Lewisham Homes, a social housing organisation whose residents could benefit from this outdoor space.
“They can feel free to come and learn these skills, try and just experiment, meet new people, get a bit more fit in the process and use the garden for those reasons,” Goode says.
Collaborative community-based approach
There is a core group of 15 volunteers who work in a collaborative environment.
“There’s the opportunity to learn lots from other people as well. We are quite a mixed group and we come from lots of different backgrounds and experiences so there is lots to bring to the table,” said Slater.
The team at Grow Lewisham emerged from a group that connected through Lewisham Extinction Rebellion and share a focus on the climate crisis and social justice.
Since then, the group widened to more people interested in growing both food and the community.
Goode, who was known by the initial group for her work at Coco Collective, explained why she was drawn to this and viewed it as an opportunity to learn from others.
“My parents come from the Caribbean, and we’re not that far removed from generations that grew up using the land to feed themselves and heal themselves and, in some cases, clothe themselves. My background is in ethical fashion so I started this whole sustainability journey some eight years ago.
“This opportunity to start community garden spaces and to almost honour my heritage and honour what my parents brought with them into this country was really the catalyst for me wanting to do this and learn,” she says.
They are also keen to involve schools, churches and youth organisations to spread this message to the younger generation.
Slater, who has researched community and sustainable food strategy, said: “I don’t need to tell you about how people have valued green spaces during the last year, that goes without saying really but I think that having places where you are connecting with other people and being outside is a double whammy. Positive places of connection are really, really valuable.”
Healthy living and food banks
As everything grown will be organic, people will not end up having to spend more to eat healthily and mindfully.
This also comes in partnership with nearby food banks who will receive surplus fresh produce.
However, the idea is broader than a “paternalistic handing over” approach, according to Slater. The group has noticed a general lack of self-sufficiency in UK food which is one of their key motivations.
Slater said: “Really we want to widen the offer so that people who find themselves in food poverty and needing those food banks are also offered the opportunity to come and grow, either in this garden or themselves somewhere else.”
Grow Lewisham also has a particular focus on permaculture, a philosophy in gardening that works with natural forces and without destroying the land and promoting sustainable farming practices among the community.
The group are currently looking to build polytunnels
, to plant Afro-Caribbean crops that can be grown in warmer climates.
‘The Plot’ community garden in Downham acts as a test site for different approaches so people can see them in action with Grow Lewisham hoping to expand and revitalise more unused spaces in Lewisham.
Other partners involved include Lewisham Allotments, Climate Action Lewisham, Foodcycle, New Cross Gate trust (another Lewisham community garden charity) and The Transition network who encourage communities to gather and address local issues.
Grow Lewisham are searching for experienced gardeners to get involved and pass on their expertise to other volunteers. You can stay updated with their progress through their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.