11 . 08 . 15
Writing by Julia Georgallis, images by Stamford Hill Estate Residents
On a balmy May afternoon, I strolled up a garden path in North London. This particular garden was quite completely and overwhelmingly full – there was barely a patch of earth that didn’t have something growing out of it. Wooden boxes, crates, tyres, glass containers, plastic tubs were everywhere, full of herbs and flowers and vegetables and fruit… There was an elderly, Irish man resting by a shed, talking to the two (I assumed Turkish) women, who couldn’t speak any English but seemed to find most things hilarious. A young boy was reaping the leafy rewards of his very own patch of soil. A man further up the garden path was tending to the largest chard I’ve ever seen and a second man was giving everyone ice cream. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the Stamford Hill Estate’s community garden – friendly, busy, full and industrious. As a child, I was always fascinated by Stamford Hill. We would drive through every other Sunday on our way to visit my grandparents and I would look out the car window at the parade of Orthodox Jews, looking dapper in their smart black suits with their hair perfectly curled, walking alongside the processions of Africans dressed in explosions and rolls of colourful fabric, heading to church. It was so starkly London to me – people who were so completely opposite (though equally as god fearing perhaps) living quite happily alongside one another and going about their own business peacefully. Built by the will power of the residents in collaboration with the charity, Groundwork, The Stamford Hill Estate embodies this diversity and also illustrates the idea of everyone happily getting on with it, regardless of differences in culture or appearance or age.
A month later, I returned to the garden alongside herb experts, Hackney Herbal – an initiative that aims to connect people and herbs in Hackney – to run a workshop. At the moment, the kids at H.H are running a scheme to harvest herbs from various community gardens and create locally grown tea blends and we thought it might be a nice idea to put our heads together to run a bread-making and tea-blending session at the Estate. The drizzly June morning didn’t seem to deter a handful of Estaters. We huffed and puffed TBC into the newly launched Peace Garden (the second community garden for hanging out in rather than growing stuff) and got baking. A large focaccia, some lavender bread and a few lemon thyme biscuits later, the rain had abated and we sat in the garden, residents, herbalists and baker eating doughnuts and the tea that we had just blended. We then spent the afternoon making our very own tea bags to take home. I was so very impressed by the community garden. I was impressed by its fullness and that it was being tended to so seriously but also with so much experimentation, especially by some of the younger growers. When we grow things, we feel better. When we are outside, we feel better (even if we do have to look straight out onto a busy North London road). If everyone in London could grow just one thing, maybe a little bean or the odd pea, I think it would solve a lot of problems. But, sadly, it is a bit of a privilege in London to be able to have access to a patch of outdoor earth. It shouldn’t be, but it is. However, the fact that it has taken a handful of very different people to get something so rare in London started is commendable and I hope it inspires other communities to get digging. If you’re ever in Stamford Hill, stick your head round the metaphorical door and say hello to the folks, busy as bees, tending to their broccoli with some elbow grease and a good bit of healthy, community steam. If the weather’s nice, there might even be an ice cream in it for you…