Spring at Streatham Common Community Garden

By Merlyn Taylor

Situated within the beautiful Rookery Garden, Streatham Common Community Garden looks a little conspicuous from the outside. Hidden behind ten feet walls, the black door entrance looks more like a service zone than a green expanse. In the refreshing April sunshine, two of The London Community Foundation team were led through to the hidden gem, with its ancient mulberry tree and nursery greenhouses sheltering the seedlings from the chill that struck earlier in the year.

Spring was definitely in the air, with volunteers bustling around; potting plants and weeding flower beds. A number of menacing field mice and wood pigeons had been pillaging some of the garden’s new green arrivals, so extra measures had been needed to keep them safe. The garden is mostly used to grow fruit and vegetables and while a lot of the ground was bare after winter, patches of winter salad and budding fruit trees still dotted the grounds.

Formerly a kitchen garden for the last manor house, the walled garden is completely cut off from the city. Speaking to many of the volunteers, the garden gave them a chance to escape the noise and smells of the built up, urban borough.  

It is quite common in the city for people to not venture too far from where they live and work, so we often meet people when doing our outreach at community events who have never been to The Rookery despite living very close. When they come they are amazed what a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place it is on their doorstep.
Ruth Arnott, Project Gardener, Streatham Common Community Garden

Established in 2013 the group have been working to promote biodiversity, sustainable living and community cohesion for local Londoners. The walled garden had become overgrown with years of neglect until 2010, when a passionate group of local activists campaigned to turn the spot into a space where local residents could come to learn and get involved in sustainable horticulture.

As well as providing volunteer opportunities, Streatham Common Community Garden have also developed a ‘learner plot’ programme, this year supported through The London Community Foundation’s Lambeth Community Fund. Each year these plots are lent out to community groups and individuals from the local area, who spend the next twelve months maintaining their plots and attending regular workshops to learn how to get the most from their patch of dirt.

Working with organisations, such as Streatham Drop-in Centre and Spires, the learner plots bring a mix of professionals, homeless people and asylum seekers to the community where they share conversation, ideas and support throughout the year. The diverse mix of individuals creates a merry, prejudice-free atmosphere where individuals who often feel marginalized and isolated can connect. 

You can have a homeless person, a refugee, a scientist or a new mum, all working side by side.…[To challenge prejudice], it is crucial that people have opportunities to foster real connections with other people.
Zara, Learner Plotter

The garden is open to every generation, from nursery toddler groups to elderly pensioners from the local library social club, the group welcomes anyone with an interest in horticulture and nature. This community provides a solution to the isolation London living can bring, while also supporting people to develop new skills and to develop their love of nature.

The programme is wonderful because I feel taken care of - it’s like respite! Everything is provided - the plot, the seeds, the learning resources, the other plot-holders. It feels very sociable! It gives me a feeling of being ‘plugged in’ to my local community in the most beautiful setting, and plugged into nature. It’s my therapy!
Manda, Learner Plotter

With more flats being built and London’s population growing, community gardens are playing an increasingly important role in giving regular Londoners, some of whom will never have their own garden, the opportunity to take part in horticulture. Allotments have waiting lists that stretch beyond ten years, and within the concrete jungle, opportunity to have your own green project is small. Projects like the learner plot programme give people from all walks of life a chance to get involved and develop a diverse and cohesive community.

If you’d like to get involved or learn more, check out their website for further information.

Banner image photo credit: Luca Migliore