Cultivating connections and ageing better
From a cuppa to car-sharing, Kirsten Foster learns how London’s community gardens are supporting those later in life, with the help of Capital Growth’s Growing Connections initiative.
It’s said that ‘Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years’. Our 74-year-old cover star, Edna Anderson, is living proof of that. With help from Capital Growth, she set up Maryon Community Garden seven years ago, along with her husband, Tim. Her age certainly doesn’t seem to have put her off getting her hands dirty — literally. As she explains, “I’ve found gardening to be therapeutic and healing. I feel like I’m contributing to a sustainable future and it’s a great way to meet people.”
People in their later years are an invaluable to the capital’s community gardens. Around a quarter of volunteers in Capital Growth’s member gardens are over 60 — maybe because they have a lifetime of experience to share. Recognising the worth of this group, the team at Capital Growth set up the Growing Connections project. Funded by the Centre of Ageing Better, the project aims to make sure those later in life feel willing and able to help out at London’s 3,000-plus community food gardens — and are encouraged to keep coming back.
Capital Growth’s gardens are already welcoming places — in fact dozens of them will be opening their gates as part of this year’s Good to Grow Day. What’s more, the new Growing Connections website and toolkit will help even more gardens reach out; a collaborative effort, the toolkit passes on the learning from a host of gardens who are doing it well.
For new and established gardens alike, the hope is that everyone can learn from each other. “We are always learning about other ways to make people feel welcome” explains Nat Mady, founder of herb-growing social enterprise, Hackney Herbal.
RAISING THE STAKES
Over in Barnet we meet the people at Older Women’s Co-housing (OWCH) an innovative co-housing community, created by and for those over 50. Instantly upon arriving you can see the effect of community-led housing and intentional design. The communal garden buzzes with life and the plentiful produce spills out of the raised beds, staggered in height across the garden. There’s apples and cherries surrounded by salad leaves, cardoons and all the usuals. You name it, they’re growing it.
‘I feel like I’m contributing to a sustainable future and it’s a great way to meet people’
The kitchen garden is cared for by 15 of the women who live at OWCH — including Shirley Merdeen, a founding member of wonderfully named group — Growing Old Disgracefully. Though, sometimes, there’s a need for the graceful too. The extra high raised beds, created to encourage those who have trouble bending, are also appreciated by the already green-fingered growers. As Hilary Vernon-Smith told us “I’m excited about the new raised beds because I had my knee replaced last year,” a perfect illustration of how everyone’s needs change over time.
But community gardens are not just for older people, in fact we know that they are one of a few places where young and old can easily come together side by side. Les Moore, of the community plot at Whetstone allotments believes that the key to a good community garden is to be welcoming to everyone. “Older people don’t want to turn up where there’s just older people. And younger people might not acknowledge it, but actually they want older people there they can learn stuff from”.
Les advises, that if we just aim to cultivate volunteers with as much care as we do our veg, we can’t go far wrong. He puts it perfectly when he says, “When we talk about growing, it’s actually people that we’re growing. That’s why they like coming here.” And perhaps the most universal idea for encouraging volunteers of all ages, as suggested by OWCH — tea and cake. Home-baked of course!
Visit www.capitalgrowth.org/growingconnections to hear from inspiring volunteers and download our volunteering toolkit for community gardens.
Good to Grow Day (previously Big Dig Day) From Friday 24 April to Monday 27 April 2020, London's edible gardens will be opening their gates. Register your garden or get stuck in at a garden near you on the online map/