Over the summer, Goldsmiths students and staff rolled their sleeves up and dug-in to prepare the soil for a university allotment. It’s been a great opportunity for them to work together and some students have even used the experience to further their studies. And, with a delivery of manure from a royal palace and the generous donations of plants from people in the local community, they’ve already had their first crops of home grown raspberries, chilies, courgettes and potatoes.
Work started in May, when the university’s Estates Department identified part of the garden behind the Anthropology Department as viable for fruit and vegetable plots. The idea for the allotment had already been germinating for some time though, with staff in Student Services and the Chaplaincy keen for people at the university to have the opportunity to grow their own food and reap the social and therapeutic benefits of gardening.
Ros Gray, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art (Critical Studies) and the allotment coordinator says: “The allotment is somewhere where people can escape to and grow their own food, but for some it also relates to their research and environmental activism. We will be growing some heritage seeds; growing the vegetables but leaving some plants to seed so we have their seeds to use next year – sort of an alternative to a seed bank.
The New Cross area used to be market gardens and the soil is particularly good for growing garlic, in fact Telegraph Hill used to be called ‘Plowed Garlick Hill’.
“This is a huge learning opportunity for us, even if that’s learning from mistakes – we have learnt a lot about how much pigeons like kale! One student made absinthe for an art piece and was looking for a home for his herbs. Another, PhD student Sigrid Holmwood is a painter who is researching the history of pigment growing and its relation to globalisation and colonialism. She’s planning to grow pigment plants on her plot and already has a patch of wode.”
A space to engage with nature and relieve stress
The allotment is part of the university’s Green Impact project and has real benefits for staff. Nicola Hogan, Space, Environmental and Sustainability Officer says: “Having an allotment on campus hasn’t only increased the ecological diversity and broadened the sustainable spectrum of the campus, it has provided an outlet to staff where they can engage with nature in their workplace. It has been scientifically proven that getting ‘down and dirty’ with the soil helps relieve stress and seeing the fruits of their labour – in the literal sense – has provided a sense of satisfaction for everyone involved.”
Goldsmiths now has a beautiful allotment that combines individual plots, collective growing areas and a composting system. It provides a fantastic opportunity for students and staff to spend time outdoors together getting their hands dirty, meeting people from different departments, sharing knowledge and learning about gardening in ways that are environmentally sensitive and will increase biodiversity.
Creating an edible landscape
The college gardeners Tony Cambridge and Stephen MacFarlane have been invaluable sources of horticultural advice. Through Stephen the allotment made contact with Buckingham Palace and arranged to have some eight cubic metres of horse manure delivered, which is excellent for enriching the soil. The allotment provides spaces for people who want to nurture their own plots, but also frequent opportunities for others who might just want to get involved with doing a bit of gardening now and then, without the responsibility of taking on an area of their own.
“We are just setting up the individual plots at the moment,” says Ros, “and have learnt that we are soon going to get an absolutely wonderful donation of fruit trees, fruit bushes and rhubarb. So we are going to expand the allotments and create an edible landscape.”
More than 40 staff and students now meet regularly to make plans, lift turf, dig, plant, water and wheelbarrow.
If you would like to join in or be added to the mailing list, please contact Ros at firstname.lastname@example.org