January is the hardest time to get outside. Some days it doesn’t seem to get light at all so the temptation is to put the heating on, watch crime dramas and wait for spring. But it is the best time to get outside, which is what we found on Saturday. We were helping out on the Wilton Estate – planting a new herb bed, painting stepping stones, making plant labels (jobs for the children) and putting up a poly-tunnel. We started, as ever, with cake and tea, then with a group of companionable volunteers, got down to some gentle weeding. Talk was of how we wanted to be buried and the sex lives of worms – perhaps not surprising subjects considering our task; we were contemplating the earth. After a couple of hours we had another delicious veggie lunch supplied by Cafe Morningside. The adults loved the food. The children were less sure. Sean said he couldn’t eat it as he wasn’t a vegetarian. We put up the poly-tunnel and ended the day, pleasantly tired and glad to have spent the day outside, with more cake – satisfied that we had now earned the right to put the heating on and watch crime dramas — till next time.
In that no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year, we managed to winkle a good handful of people from the warmth of their homes into the cold mid-winter to try to reduce our still large pile of flax to thread (where IS Rumplestiltskin when you need him?). Two people, Moira and Catherine, came from afar (Woking and somewhere further than Richmond) in spite of the bus strike. Moira is now an expert as she’s been to three workshops and is even starting to develop her own tools. Catherine was a novice but keen to learn about natural fibre and dyes. We were also very happy to see Charlotte and Doug (formerly of this parish) who’ve been working on organic farms in Britain and Spain.
It was cold but bright and we spun 56 metres – mostly using the hand drill method. Doug made a lovely fire (don’t tell) and we drank lots of tea and HopCord, the beer made by the People’s Park Tavern with our hops. Yum.
Our small community garden is maintained entirely by volunteers. We run it with enthusiasm (mostly) and a belief in the power of gardening to bring people together – as well as improving the environment of course. We have learnt that amongst our gardeners we have a variety of skills – composting, seed-sowing, planning, raising veg, PR, samosa-making, taking photos, organising things – but most people have other things to do – other lives – and sometimes we need a boost to help get things done.
Our first big volunteer day in February 2011 was to build two big beds. Local people and students from the London College of Fashion turned out on a bright (but cold) day to shovel, carry, dig and construct. We found that getting together to drink tea at the beginning, middle or end of the volunteer day was as important – maybe more – as getting the job done – especially if we try to make tea on the camping stove. The waiting makes it taste so much better.
Our biggest ongoing project so far is what we call the Slow Shed. We’ve built it almost entirely from reclaimed materials and voluntary labour. With a general lack of building skills amongst us it is a slow business with lots of set-backs but it has brought lots of people together and provided everyone with an enormous sense of achievement. The Slow Shed – like a Herculean task – is never finished so we always have jobs to do on it.
We got a big boost when a corporate group came for a day last summer. They helped weave the front with willow, painted some lockers we’d found in the street and put up some shelves.
It’s usually not usually money we need — the garden is cheap to run and we raise money through cake and plant sales and subs cover most of our day-to-day expenses. Occasionally we need financial help with a specific project (like the willow-weaving where we needed to buy materials). More important to us is energy and enthusiasm – and a keenness to drink tea together.
For such a small organisation like ours, it’s wonderful to get an injection of vigour and good will from people who really don’t need to help but do anyway. We’re looking forward to seeing more groups from our neighbours in the business world and beyond.
We had a great day yesterday. Not just because it was probably the last hot day of a blazing summer but because we had volunteers from the international insurance and risk management company, Lockton, to help us with the shed. Their London base is in the City so they are neighbours geographically, though quite distant in many other ways. Five of their employees turned up ready to get to work (and we had a fairly long list of things we needed done) and after obligatory cake and tea they got started and didn’t really stop till one of them had to go for a meeting and the rest of us ground to a halt through exhaustion and overheating. Weaving a shed it more tiring than you’d think.
Martin and George did some magnificent carpentry in the shed – mostly remedial work for my wobbly bench but putting up shelves, too.
Steve spent all day painting a locker we’d found on the street. It looks as good as new now.
and then got down to some serious weaving with willow from World of Willow (at a very nice discount). Sarah, too – leader of the team – was great company and certainly left her mark with her unique brick-style weave.
For a small organisation like ours, where volunteering enthusiasm easily wanes, it’s wonderful to get an injection of vigour and good will from people who really don’t need to help but do anyway. So a big thanks to Lockton, who have given us a great boost.