Putting Down Roots is a horticultural training programme set up by the charity St Mungo’s. I have been working as a community and consultative gardener in the London Bridge, Bankside and South Bank areas for the past 10 years. The programme was set-up to train homeless and formerly homeless people to grow vegetables, do hard landscaping and more recently doing maintenance and gardening club workshops on housing lands. I was formerly homeless when I moved to the South Bank area 11 years ago.
I had originally started out as a garden volunteer for Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) I then became a trustee, and when a job came up to be community gardener, I applied. The first project with was to create a community garden on Southwark Councils’ Scovell Housing estate called Brookwood Triangle. I was told this a day after I got the job with BOST, who at that time had never created a community garden on a housing estate, and neither had I!
The added pressure was having to gather residents and other community stakeholders to create a garden on social housing land with an international artist, Fritz Haeg, as part of his Edible Estates project who’d been commissioned by Tate Modern as part of the Global Cities Turbine Hall exhibition.
It was a baptism of fire to in to community gardening, and the start of what has been 11 years of food growing, beekeeping and events management on social housing estates for me. My route in to beekeeping came through community gardening, especially food growing and the dependence of 70% of food crops on bees pollination. Anything I can do to encourage people to attend gardening clubs, visit my apiary or sow plants which attracts pollinators is crucial. I often refer urban gardeners, schools and estate growing clubs to the RHS Perfect for Pollinators is a very good place for those who live in urban areas which are increasingly become devoid of green spaces to plant nectar rich plants to help the few remaining wild bees and other range of pollinating insects.
I’m not sure it is just London who will benefit from the new Tate building. I am hoping the positive impact will mean more locals gain employment first and foremost, as I believe it’s success is guaranteed due to it’s location in London. Bankside has seen much social change since the heralding of the wave of new developments starting with Tate Modern in 2000, and it will continue with this project. Museums are changing: we are all impacted by technology which affects our concentration span. So who knows in a decade or so, we’ll be visiting virtual museums, or there will be more touch-screens to engage the visiting audiences. Communities play a vital role in redevelopment, and should be at the heart of shaping cultural buildings and projects such as the new Tate Modern. The Community Development and Regeneration Team have done amazing work in the last 15 years which enables the poorest sectors of the local community to feel a part of this cultural institution. Communities make projects work. Tate gives its visitors a place where money or social status doesn’t dictate who can access art and culture.