New ‘guerilla garden’ promises seeds of hope in Nottingham

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A ‘guerilla garden’ is taking shape on a plot of land in Radford thanks to the sweat of a team of volunteers inspired by their experiences with food poverty during lockdown.

If all goes to plan, fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers will soon be growing on a patch of once ruined and abandoned soil by the side of Forest Road West.

That’s the vision of the people behind the Gamble Street Corner project, who hope that local people living in food poverty will be able to feed themselves with produce harvested from the roadside allotment.

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The project is being led by Paul Cox, who lives in Old Basford. Paul is the founder of the Nottz Garden Project, which works alongside Radford food bank Himmah to deliver fresh produce for use in food parcel deliveries.

Paul, 47, who has a background working in commercial food manufacturing and distribution, began helping Himmah during lockdown by donating small amounts of fruit and vegetables grown on his own plot on the Whitemoor Allotments in Basford.

From there he began volunteering to help distribute parcels as well, and teaching the Himmah team about vegetable growing, all the while fostering an idea inspired by other guerilla garden projects around the world.

Through the connections he made at Himmah, including the owner of a neighbouring business, who owns the plot of land, a plan started to form.

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Paul says: “I’d been thinking for a while about people doing guerilla gardening, setting up a little spot. I’d been searching like crazy for somewhere and never really found the right place.

“I went to Himmah one day and found this massive bit of totally derelict land. I asked about taking it over and growing veg. We discussed it numerous times.”

After seeking permission from the owner Paul and a group of volunteers started work on converting the patch of earth, which at the time was in no state for growing crops, into fertile ground for vegetable and fruit to be grown in. They have also painted the side of the adjacent building with their own decorations.

And tomorrow (Thursday, May 18) is a big day for the group: a fresh batch of compost will be laid down and the first seeds planted.

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The Gamble Street Corner project has been made possible due to a crowdfunding campaign which raised £1,500, enough to fund the compost needed for the soil and the paint to decorate the warehouse with a frontage on Forest Road.

“When we cleared the plot we found syringes and beer bottles. Now there’s hardly any rubbish. People look after it more now that it’s in a better state.”

Paul says that the team has had some quizzical looks from passers-by. But now that the garden is on the verge of growing its first plants, he says that it has been accepted by the local community.

“At first people thought we were doing community service! And some of the shop owners on Alfreton Road wanted to know what it was about.

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“But we’ve also had lots of people getting in touch on Instagram asking about the project.

And we’ve had people leaving us compost and plant pots as donations.”

With lots of issues still to work out, including over how and when different crops should be harvested, Paul admits that it’s hard to know whether local people will eventually take and eat the food the garden produces.

“We’re going to make a sign explaining what the place is, that it’s for the community,” he says. “They’re just going to be left there for people to take them. There will be signs for people so they know that things aren’t ready yet.

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“People can pick it, wreck it, vandalise it. It’s a bit of an experiment really.”

But he has taken that risk into account - any foods that aren’t taken away when they are ready for eating will be used in Himmah food parcels. And he is carrying on with the regular Nottz Garden Project work.

He’s also planning to host regular events at the Gamble Street site.

At the moment the team are trying to find a date for a planned ‘tomato day’, to provide passers-by with tomato seeds, compost, and the know-how to grow their own plants with the potential to provide tomatoes for a whole summer.

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