Global Gardeners boost local community in Swindon

Global Gardeners boost local community in Swindon

We’re always looking for great stories which showcase the impact that growing can have within a community. As part of Plant and Share month, we caught up with the Global Gardeners, based in Swindon, to find out how they’ve used growing to connect as a community.


“We had a lot of spaces that needed to be brightened up and lots of resources, like our allotment, where we identified an opportunity to grow food,” explains Dan when he thinks back to the beginnings of Global Gardeners, a gardening group for asylum seekers in Swindon.


Dan, Community Engagement Officer at the Mechanics Institution Trust, and Jacob, Project and Team Lead for Migrant Health at Swindon Borough Council, launched the growing project as a way to address multiple needs in the community.


“I was delighted to hear from Dan,” remembers Jacob. “Something people mention to me a lot is not just wanting something to do to pass the days, as asylum seekers aren’t able to work, but also wanting to exercise and the chance to get fresh fruit and veg at the allotment.”


This project, funded by Wiltshire Community Foundation and with support from the Live Well team, set out to remedy both of those issues, providing a way to enjoyably pass the time as well as an opportunity to access fresh veg and combat isolation. It also means that asylum seekers can use their knowledge and skills to teach those new to gardening.


“A lot of the people at the group had skills from their jobs and lives before the UK,” begins Jacob, going on to list the abundance of skills that exist within the group, from painting to carpentry. Lots of participants particularly enjoy growing food which they enjoyed growing up too, combining their skills with Dan and Jacob’s knowledge of seasons and weather patterns in the UK. “Rhubarb is really popular in a lot of countries around the world but is often eaten as a savoury snack. That’s been really popular to grow, especially with several of our Afghan attendees.”


Excess produce goes to Swindon’s crop drop, local food banks or is taken to the community centre kitchen for volunteers to bake into cakes for Swindon’s Welcome Spaces – community venues open for residents to spend time, meet others and feel safe. Favourites have been courgette cake and rhubarb crumble.


The group also work on the garden at the town’s community centre. “People walk along going about their day and say how happy they are to see it being used. It was basically a bare patch, and now it’s something people are proud to walk past.”


It’s not just the boost to the local environment that people are enjoying, it’s also the produce itself. “There’s a herbs section along the main road so anyone who walks past can help themselves. People always take the mint to make teas, and bay and coriander are popular too,” Dan shares.


Last year, the group’s achievements culminated in a celebration to mark the judging of last year’s South West In Bloom competition. “We had a party and loads of our volunteers made cakes,” states Jacob. “One of our volunteers is an Afghan gentleman who has a PhD in Plant Protection, and he used all the veg to make a massive curry dish for everyone. He cooked that in the kitchen of the community centre, so we saw it go full circle from planting and growing to cooking and serving to celebrate.”


Hoping to showcase those full circle moments more often, the team are looking towards a cooking programme run by the Adult Community Learning that will be launching from September. This will involve training on how to cook on a budget and with fewer ingredients, using produce that’s been grown by the Global Gardeners.


Currently, the group are growing potatoes, onion, courgette, cucumber, rhubarb and much more. “One of our long-term plans is to create a global garden area where we test new things and see what works,” says Dan, thinking back to some successful and not-so-successful growing experiments the group have already undertaken – one involving a lemon tree that didn’t survive the winter. “We ask people what they’d like to see and then try and facilitate that,” he continues.


Beyond the direct benefits of growing together, Dan and Jacob are also pleased to see the group helping in other ways. “The confidence growers gain and confidence in speaking English – we like to think that’s played a small part in getting them into the work force,” they reflect, going to on to add that “we often provide references which help people into employment, so whilst a lot of people continue to pop in and keep in touch, if they’re not here anymore, that’s a good thing.”


The group already have plenty of plans, including expanding their repertoire of veg, and are looking forward to using Plant and Share resources as inspiration for future growing activities. “They’re going to help us a lot moving forwards – the priority is coming together and working towards a shared goal.”


If you’ve been inspired by this story and would like to know more about running your own gardening group, our community event guide will take you through the basics, and our Plant and Share toolkit contains a world of growing inspiration.


Find out more about Global Gardeners


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