London has the largest concentration of city (care) farms and community gardens of any UK city. The importance of community led green spaces is profound.
Community farms and gardens act as a vital resource for local people. In the metropolis of the UK’s most populous urban environment, it is often forgotten how much green space is accessible within the confines of TFL travel zones. With over 3000 parks of varying size, 18 percent of London is green. The parks of London cover a greater area than that of the roads and railways combined. Despite this, physical barriers to accessing parks and gardens deprive many of the benefits felt from spending time in green spaces. The charity Social Farms and Gardens is celebrating a 41st year of assisting people through nature based activity. They have transformed city spaces to realise their objective of improving community health and wellbeing.
There are a plethora of charity-led farms across the city of London. From Mudchute, looming in the shadow of Canary Wharf, to Hackney City Farm, tucked away from the bustle of east London. These farms and gardens thrive with the determined perseverance of volunteers, though the uncertainty of numerous lockdowns has jeopardised their existence. They are tranquil spaces that act as a lifeline for young people and families.The city, for the immense opportunity it can provide, often fails those with the least. Green space and an attachment to nature is an innate need for people, and social farms and gardens help people to realise this.
A fact that is often overlooked, London has an incomparable amount of green space to that of rival mega cities. The quality of this green space has contributed to London’s position as one of the most sustainable cities in the world. The protected royal parks, vast green belt of Greater London and the community farms are similarly important. Community farms are predominantly utilised by local people, with schools and community groups making frequent visits. The farm is an essential learning tool, creating and nurturing a love of animals, explaining the significance of healthy eating and developing personal skills. For teenagers, these inner city farms act as work experience, enabling some to combine a love of animals with voluntary opportunity. Their presence in the city is unique, but aids in reducing the geographical inequalities of city life.
The community farms exhibit their animals, ably handled by young volunteers, at annual festivals. Evident is how vital these farms are for young people, as their presence is significant to the success of the festival. Animals are paraded around, some more willingly than others. Volunteers grapple with distressed sheep. Officials proceed to inspect the animals. The scene is not one associated with London, as the tweed-clad adjudicator makes his final deliberations; everyone receives a rosette. Animals of all sizes are reared at the farms, with the finest specimens being transported to competition. From rabbits to large cattle, these festivals are an opportunity to appeal to more people. The farms exist as charities, relying upon donations and voluntary work to fund and maintain themselves.
The city farms are not merely a ‘day out’ excursion, their significance and history is understated; they retain deep roots in their local communities. A day at Woodlands Farm teaches us about the importance of sustainability and biodiversity, as each of these farms channels this message to the young people they connect with. The ability to play and connect with nature breeds confidence and happiness, reducing the ills of poor mental health that thrive in the dense and over-populated London.
Not limited to livestock, these gatherings also exhibit a diverse spread of floral creations, baskets brimming with a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Community growers, the allotment gardeners are another group of people who benefit from London’s pockets of green space. Allotments are inherently social spaces. Neighbouring patches, each growing a diverse vegetable garden and sharing their bounty. These patches have been incorporated into the treatment of mental health issues. Their mission is simple; ‘build community and improve lives by encouraging people to take part in gardening, outdoor learning, play and other creative activities’.
The community farms and gardens, within the context of London, are a hidden oasis. The unforgiving pace of the city is left at the gates and people are encouraged to rekindle an innate attachment to the earth via a small garden patch. Without the promise of government funding, please consider supporting your local community farm or garden with visits (if permitted) or donations.