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  • Writer's pictureKath Burton

Dig In! How Community Gardens are Growing in Popularity in Reading

By Dave Richards, Community Food-Growing Advocate, Designer and Gardens Coordinator, Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC)


Dave Richards with a Tromboncino
Dave Richards with a Tromboncino

The start to the 2024 growing season sees the creation of one new garden and the revitalisation of two others, using very welcome Small Grants funding that Food 4Families (F4F) has received from Reading Borough Council. It’s rewarding to me to see how the community food growing movement is gaining momentum, especially since Reading is home to one of the oldest roof gardens and has been moving forward with community food-growing projects over decades. F4F's work in partnership with community groups, allotmenteers and other organisations around town has certainly evolved over the years, but still remains a little-known everyday facet of life in Reading.


We were therefore delighted when we were approached by the Chaplain at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH), Pastor Josh Wilson, who had seen the RBH Oasis Staff Wellbeing Garden taking shape and was inspired to set up something similar at the Wellness Centre that his church, the Spiritual Care Foundation, has set up on Scours Lane.


People making a wooden construction
Making Raised Beds at Bethel United FC

The site is right on the edge of the town, sandwiched between the main railway line and playing fields close to the River Thames, and provides a base from which local people can explore wild nature. It has great potential for providing opportunities to learn how to grow fruit and veg with new garden tutor Lily Howes; not only for members of the congregation but also the young men from the football team that Josh has set up: Bethel United FC. F4F and Bethel United FC have now built raised beds and the future plan is to plant a forest garden that will create a peaceful haven in which to relax.

Garden setting with plants and structures
Weller Centre, Caversham

On the other side of town, also close to the River Thames, is the Weller Centre on Amersham Road. There are groups for mums and toddlers, as well as a youth club, and the Centre is a vibrant community hub providing a welcoming, warm space for all. The community kitchen located there also distributes surplus food and makes it into delicious cooked meals for the pensioners lunch club. All of the surplus food has been donated by local businesses.

Although F4F has had a garden at the Centre since 2012, it has recently lost momentum. Our new tutor, Katie Andrews, is an experienced horticultural therapist who has great ideas for making the garden a perfect space for Centre users to enjoy the great outdoors and grow their own food.


Another new tutor, Carol Shepherd, who is located at the second F4F garden in need of a green-fingered boost, is digging into the rejuvenation of the Whitley Growallot. Carol brings her Scout pack for regular gardening sessions and hopes to entice parents, as well as children, into giving gardening a go. F4F is planning to run taster sessions at the Whitley Community Development Association’s (WCDA) centre on Northumberland Avenue and encourage people to get growing there. We're hopeful that those who get the growing bug will graduate to the Growallot garden where there are lots of mature fruit trees and shrubs, a polytunnel and raised beds to work on, plus a compost loo and bee hive to really bring the permaculture experience to life.


Like the Weller Centre, WCDA is at the heart of the community, with a wide range of activities involving food: a lunch club, food bank, Saturday veg stall and an innovative University of Reading project that aims to support people who want to adopt a more healthy diet by offering a free supply of surplus veg to local residents.

A group oe people in a garden setting
Whitley Growallot Community Gardeners

All of us at Food4Families are thrilled that the two existing gardens are starting to thrive again with the renewed energy that garden tutors bring. We continue to receive requests from schools, faith and community groups to help them set up gardens, as more and more people realise that meeting new people and growing together is great for your wellbeing, contributes to a healthy diet through the addition of fresh, organic and locally grown fruit and veg, and provides a brilliant way to learn how to live a more planet-friendly lifestyle.

 

As ever, initiatives like Incredible Edible Reading and F4F are only made possible by grant funding and the time volunteered by our many community gardeners and behind-the-scenes teams. Our incredible garden tutors work tirelessly to bring shared green spaces to life and welcome in anyone who's interested in joining, whether an experienced gardener or novice. While there is no typical community gardener, our tutors are unique and we continue to seek appropriate funding to support their activities running and coordinating all of the work involved in growing a thriving community garden. In the short term, we want to increase capacity by training up more garden tutors and identifying people with specialist skills, such as permaculture garden design, landscaping and environmental education; not least as several developers involved in large regeneration projects in the town centre are keen to incorporate an edible urban landscape into their plans. If you can help us with any aspect of our work, we're always keen to hear from you. Come and join us – if you eat, you’re in! 🥕 Get in touch via our socials or email. And finally... We’re continuing with the pioneering community food-growing mission that Food4Families started in Reading and joining with other groups in Reading to put community food growing at the heart of Reading Council's strategy. The newly formed Reading Food Partnership (RFP) is developing ways to create a more sustainable, climate resilient and equitable local food supply system. This is a really positive way forward and we're hopeful that collaboration with RFP will help move the Incredible Edible Reading concept to the next exciting stage. The future is bright, the future is edible. 🥕


Reading Food Partnership Poster
Reading Food Partnership

All photographs courtesy of Dave Richards, 2024: dave@risc.org.uk

 

For more details about community food-growing in Reading visit:


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