A desolate children’s playground was transformed nearly 10 years ago into a community food garden and sanctuary in the heart of the Cranbrook Estate in Globe Town. Current chair of the food garden, Lizzy Mace who joined 3 years ago, and treasurer Janet Burns who has been with the garden since the start, speak to us about how the inner city green space was created and the importance of volunteers.
Hidden away in the Cranbrook estate in Globe Town is a small green area with an abundance of rhubarb, kale, beans, beetroot, Bengali pumpkins, tomatoes and cucumber.
Cranbrook Community Food Gardens are nestled at the bottom of the six iconic Cranbrook towers designed by renowned architect Berthold Lubetkin.
As you walk through the gates of the garden, you encounter bountiful beds of herbs in front of you. There is an apple tree in full blossom and a greenhouse stuffed with Bengali and Chinese pumpkins and tiny baby succulents. The back of the garages along the wall of the garden are painted with bright floral murals and there is a pagoda to the left where the members sit and chat with a bottle of wine during the summer evenings.
Lizzy Mace, Cranbrook resident and chairwoman, and Janet Burns, Cranbrook resident and treasurer, greet us at the garden. ‘It is just such a nice place to be, we feel happy here’ they explained.
Formed in 2009, the food garden was first created to make use of a children’s playground that was falling into disrepair. ‘There weren’t even any swings, or anything for the children to play with’ explains Burns. Not only was the food garden supposed to reinvigorate this wasted area, but Burns and the other founders knew they could grow fresh vegetables for all the members to enjoy. Currently, there are 25 members, but the garden is looking to expand. Members can be anyone who lives or works in Tower Hamlets.
The council do not collect food waste from the Cranbrook estate as they do from most other areas, so the Cranbrook Community Food Garden have a bin outside for food waste. ‘We want food scraps from anyone that needs somewhere to put theirs. It helps make the most perfect compost’ explains Mace.
Each week, all the veg is given to the members. ‘It is usually divided up equally, depending on how much people have worked, but people are pretty honest and share really well’ says Mace.
‘When we have some spare, we sell it on a Saturday along with homemade rhubarb jam, and succulents grown by Xue Yuan D’costa, one of our members. All of the money goes straight back into the garden, and is put towards our projects.’
At the AGM each year, three targets are set for the garden, and then the members try to find funds and grants to support the projects. This year, the targets include extending the path leading to the garden to make it more accessible. Mace explains, ‘We have just finished our last target from last year, which was to rebuild the beds. We paid for a carpenter to come in and do it with a grant.’ The Greggs Foundation provided this environmental grant that paid for the materials, and money from fundraising paid for a local carpenter.
Volunteering is key to the running of the garden – people from outside the estate come down on a Saturday and join in with digging and planting and whatever is required. ‘It’s nice for people to get involved, they bring their kids and get some fresh air, right in the middle of a central London estate’ explains Burns.
Without these volunteers, Mace and Burns agree, there would be no garden to maintain. In fact, they are constantly hoping for more volunteers to join their ranks and help with the maintenance of the garden.
If you want to get involved, either head down any Saturday after 11am when the food garden is open to visitors and you can purchase leftover bounty such as rhubarb jam or young succulents or attend any of their events.
Visit Cranbrook Community Food Garden at Mace St, London E2 0RB and keep up to date with their activities on Facebook.