We began working on Hackney Downs Estate in 2019. The tenant-managed estate was hoping to improve some of their outdoor space while encouraging residents to come together and take part in gardening activities.

To introduce ourselves to residents, we planned a day during the spring half-term break, when we would gather in the communal garden space at the centre of the estate to plant a new mini-orchard of 6 fruit trees, and a perimeter hedge of edible and native native shrubs. We were able to let residents know about our plans for regular gardening activities that we would soon be hosting on the estate.

While we were planting the new orchard, we dug so deep that we came across the old WW2 air raid shelter that is beneath the garden! A first for us – way more interesting than a horse shoe! We were also joined by the local neighbourhood police team, who got stuck in and helped us to plant the new hedge.

After our initial event to launch the project, we returned a few weeks later to being our regular fortnightly sessions. Some residents had already commandeered a corner of the estate and built their own vegetable patch, and the management wanted to encourage this by expanding their area and creating beds for them that also enhanced the aesthetic value of that area. Despite being an awkwardly shaped bit of land, and tucked between the railway line and residential blocks where there was little direct sunlight during the day, we were able to suggest a solution both to the outline of the new growing space, and also to what edibles the residents might try to grow there.

We began by clearing the overgrown weeds from this particular area, then massively improving the old impoverished soil with plenty of organic matter, before construction custom-designed raised beds to fit the space. We completed this work over one intensive week, before beginning a regular fortnightly visit to the estate, where residents could join us to begin planting up this area, as well as taking part in gardening sessions across the rest of the estate, where we aimed to improve some of the pocket shrub-growing areas, while upskilling residents with gardening knowledge that they could use to maintain their own estate in future.

The outcome in the new veg growing space was a massive improvement in and area that had previously looked untidy, overgrown and very much unloved! The following photos show the progress from when we first visited the site, through the construction work, and the eventual outcome during the summer of 2019. Scroll to the bottom to hear about the other activities we were hosting on the estate during this time!

Each day that we were on Hackney Downs Estate working with adult residents to complete the transformation of the new veg growing space, we also hosted an after-school Nature Club for the children.

We built another four raised beds inside the community orchard, and created a kids-only vegetable garden! Each week after school we got together to sow seeds, prick out and pot on seedlings, plant out our plants, and learn how to water and care for them while they grew to become healthy vegetables. We also had lots of garden craft days, painting bird boxes that were hung around the estate, and making labels for all of our plants. We are looking forward to returning to the estate in spring 2020 to begin another year of Nature Club activities with the children, and further site improvements across the estate with the adults.

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