Over the past two weeks we have been supporting the excellent work done at the Community Shop West Norwood, building a Rion greenhouse and significantly enlarging their edible and ornamental garden, in order to improve the wellbeing of their members.

The Community Shop in West Norwood is one branch of a social enterprise that is empowering individuals and building stronger communities, by realising the social potential of surplus food. That makes them perfect partners for us, as they support vulnerable people to be more independent, connected to their community and leading healthy lifestyles. When we met them in the summer, they already made such good use of their limited growing space, with a Kids Cook Club, Melting Pot and Feast Days, we wanted to empower them to grow even more on site, through all seasons, with a greenhouse and huge amounts of containers. We wanted to build raised beds but, because the site is only temporary, we have made sure that all the materials can be moved easily.

Jim finishing off the greenhouse

So, we used recycled steel drums as containers, and filled them with 12 tons of a special new growing medium from Bourne Amenity, which they have developed with the University of Sheffield for intensive roof planting. The mix of sandy topsoil with compost, composted bark and Leca impressed everyone, and we think it’s going the be great news for the flowers and food grown on site.

We also built timber seating between the barrels to create an enjoyable, social space to grow food and engage with other people. We spent 4 days with them, in a variety of autumnal weathers, engaging their members in the full range of tasks involved in the expansion. This was a chance to learn about the background and latent skills of many members, who told us that the garden is a reason to get up in the morning, that the site was more appealing already (even in the drab autumn light), and about their grand plans for plot-to-plate projects in the spring. But they need not wait, because we brought in over 200 young winter crops grown expertly by Cultivate in west London – another fantastic social enterprise, which trains unemployed young people in landscaping and horticulture. So the Community Shop now has rainbow chard, spinach, coriander, parsley, chives and a range of mustards (red giant, green and red frills) and kales (cavolo nero, red russian, curly purple and green) which, if the catalogues are to be believed, ‘taste better picked from a foot of snow’. So no excuse for waiting until spring then!

None of this engagement work would be possible without funding from the Trust for London.

Winter crops laid out for planting

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