Where in the city is this organic kitchen garden situated? The BT tower in the background might give you a clue. It’s part of St. George’s Community Hub, a project I’ve been forming links with as part of my job as Outreach Officer. Between the Jewellery Quarter and the A4540 New John Street West is the Newtown estate where it’s situated: four big brown tower blocks you see off the North – South ring road.
Housed in a former school, St. George’s mission is: ‘to advance urban regeneration and community development by the provision of education and training in a spiritual context’. While Church of England propelled, the charitable project reaches out to those of all faiths and none. Projects and tenants in the building are from various voluntary, education and church groups but the main focus is on youth work with three projects of particular interest from an environmental perspective:
1) The intergenerational project runs on Thursday evenings when young people work with a parent or guardian to take turns in cooking and eating a meal prepared from ingredients grown organically from seed in the project’s kitchen garden. The recipes cooked reflect the participants’ national and cultural background, so everyone will get to sample everyone else’s culinary styles.
2) Monday nights are a straightforward horticultural session, predominantly outside tending the garden, unless it’s extreme weather.
3) B-United is another project bringing together young people from different postcode areas and backgrounds and is predominantly focused on engaging people at the fringes of gang culture. This amalgamates several different youth organisations.
Working with youngsters aged 10 – 16, the team comprises around ten full and part time workers as well as sessional staff, who support CEO Bob Tyler. His background was in horticulture and organic farming prior to working in Birmingham.
The estate and project featured on Channel 4’s programme Tower of Commons in which Tim Laughton MP, junior minister for children and families, spent eight days living with residents. He’s since returned to the estate, which has also been visited by Ed Milliband and is held up as an example of good practice.
Newtown is one of several Ladywood constituencies to have just won an In Bloom award, and you can see from the photo the effort made by local residents working together with statutory and third sector agencies. Gardening in the widest sense of the word is a great way to bring together people from all sorts of backgrounds and turn ‘tough estates’ like this one into amenable neighbourhoods, where people from all sorts of backgrounds can live and flourish together.