The Growing Kitchen

Wenlock Barn TMO

Background

Wenlock Barn is an estate in Hackney (N1 7PQ) managed by a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). It comprises of 52 blocks containing 1475 units. The estate has a diverse population and a higher than average percentage of residents over retirement age.

In 2006, the residents of the Wenlock Barn Estate claimed the legal right to manage their homes. They formed a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) and receive an allowance from Hackney Council to carry out the cleaning, grounds maintenance (gardening) and day to day repairs. They also carry out general housing management.

Project development

A group of resident volunteers came together to identify disused green spaces across the estate and have subsequently transformed their local green spaces into productive urban landscapes that bring people of all ages and backgrounds together.

"before the project there were 'just large amounts of empty grass, mainly used as a dog toilet.'

Sarah Adams, an active member of the Growing Kitchen

In 2008, Grass Shoots, a community food-growing initiative, was commissioned by Shoreditch Trust to develop a Growing Kitchen Garden on the Wenlock Barn Estate. Grass Shoots put together a package of community workshops based on cooking, gardening and sustainable living, to be implemented on the estate.

The project was a great success and one of its major outcomes was the creation of 35 mini allotments which provide an opportunity to get involved in growing food for approximately 90 people. It was felt that mini allotments would be more appropriate than a communual garden as it would give people ownership over individual plots and encourage them to look after it for themselves.

Sustaining the project

When the Grass Shoots project ended, residents organised themselves into a constituted group with an elected chair and secretary. Monthly meetings take place using the TMO's facilities in the winter and the garden in the summer. The TMO put some money in for a tap and a shed where communal tools are stored. The group maintain the garden area themselves.

Using some funding secured from the NHS, the allotments space has been used for celebratory events where people share lunch in the garden and for cook and eat sessions which have sought to promote healthy eating. Funding from the TMO has allowed the group to build a clay oven.

 'these events are important because they help us to reach people from the wider community. Many older people are very isolated and there is rising childhood obesity. These events are a fun way of bringing everyone together and trying to tackle some of these issues'

Sarah Adams, an active member of the Growing Kitchen

Two of the allotment holders then became interested in developing a food-growing project with a commercial focus. They envisioned the business would grow herbs and salad crops on under-used green space in the estate and the produce would be sold to restaurants and commercial outlets. Their application to the East London Green Grid Programme and Capital Growth was to finance a business plan and set up costs, to give the project a clear structure

Commercial enterprise

In spring 2010, Wenlock Barn Herb Garden was established on a small patch of disused land. Although small, the area is highly productive, with crops growing in raised beds. The project specialises in high yielding salad crops which are rotated to ensure they have a consistent supply to sell. The site is managed by a paid part-time grower who works on the site and manages help from occasional volunteers. The project was created as a commercial venture to ensure long-term viability. It generates income through the sale of produce, which is used to pay for staff to run the project. Any profits are fed back in to the local community.

Wider benefits

'I'm on the board of the TMO and we have really struggled in the past to engage some groups in the way the estate is run. In particular we have found it hard to encourage mums with kids, older people and our Turkish neighbours to get involved. But these are the groups that enjoy getting involved in the garden and so we have found a new way of involving them. It is really positive; we have people from Iraq, Turkey and Africa taking part in the project; often they have come from a culture of food growing and they talk of how important growing is to them, it reminds them of home.'

Sarah Adams, an active member of the Growing Kitchen

The future

The group also holds a session every Sunday during the growing season. Residents are encouraged to volunteer to help build and maintain the garden. The Growing Kitchen is keen to engage with new people and are currently exploring working with a group of older and vulnerable people through a partnership with Hackney Council, linking with a local homeless charity to provide food, and working with the school opposite to create a nature garden for educational purposes. They are hoping to get a bee hive through the Capital Bee project. Since the garden has been established, it has become a magnet, drawing in local residents and other locally based organisations.

'the hardest part is finding the funding to keep it all going; it would be great if we could do more! The people here are brilliant and it really helps your mental well being when you'd otherwise be stuck in a flat.'

Sarah Adams, an active member of the Growing Kitchen
https://youtu.be/7AKn0YPWEWo