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Meet a new group member: Thorlands Gardens

How do you describe your project?
Thorlands Gardens
is a food growing club based on an east Lambeth housing estate, in Camberwell, SE5. The estate was mainly built in the 1950’s, and is strangely hammer shaped.
Thorlands Gardens is named such for good reason. Firstly, It just so happens that Thor was the God of Agriculture. Someone, unbeknown to us, wanted to leave a legacy in the naming of the estate, with a nod to the Scandinavian connection with Queen Anne’s husband the Duke
of Denmark. Indeed the estate sits on Denmark Road, not far from Denmark Hill, where the monarch and her husband apparently lived.

Secondly, our tagline, ‘The first Camberwell market garden in over fifty years,’ was dreamed up, in the context of the whole area previously being farmland, mainly market gardens, orchards, pasture and meadow for sheep. Some of these activities continued up until well into the 1950’s. One interesting fact cited in the archives was that the English herb yarrow
was collected in the fields of Camberwell and sold in London. Apparently, yarrow was used for cleaning the typhoid-ridden water by brewing with barley into weak ‘Flowers’ ale!
Lastly, but by no means least, we all think the name and tagline just has a happy ring to it!
Wow, that’s such an interesting snippet of history – thank you Simon.

Can you tell us why you set the project up?
The project was set up by Thorlands TMO Committee with the help of a local food grower and garden designer. There was a shared vision to move forward with a zero miles food project on unused and unloved brownfield spaces. There was an understanding that residents of all ages could volunteer simply for the value that experience gives to individual wellbeing. There is also the added bonus of sharing the fruits of the labour, which in this case is healthy produce, such as vegetables, salads, herbs, and edible flowers.

And what is the main reason for wanting to join IEL?

Thorlands Gardens is a new project with the need to promote volunteering, and horticultural experiential learning. Being on the IEL Map will help, to recruit more residents and locals, when safe to do so. Bringing people together so we can grow the capacity of the production for locals by locals, is a primary goal. The IEL Map will also be an invaluable platform to promote the benefits to individual health, a community as a whole, as well as the project’s long term mission to be a part of a new food growing culture and circular economy. Thorlands Gardens will provide some much needed
work in the primary sector, right here in Camberwell.

That’s really exciting – to provide employment, we too want to get more people working in this sector!

– and what are the challenges you face in the short, medium and long-term?
Well, as the garden is now starting to take shape in one of the main growing areas we see the possibility of a glut of food in the very near future. However with the current restrictions on working we have simply the challenge to keep up the sowing, potting on and watering. So we
would like to work with IEL to promote an ‘Open Market Day’ which will promote future events on site. We think that is a great way to drive up the interest, the voluntary hours, and also bring a regular customer base.

In the mid term we have the challenge of a dichotomy, one of creating some meaningful local work, while shoppers are still having to keep a healthy distance. The exciting news is that Thorlands is situated in Camberwell in the middle of three towns with five farmers markets. We have already been offered a place at one of those, when the moment is right to open up again. That will involve training up a volunteer as an intern into work. We will
announce which market when the moment is right.

Another long term challenge or a golden opportunity, depending on how you frame it, is the mission of providing employment. The role of a ‘Market Gardener’ which demands a ‘soil to stall’ regime, may be for some very challenging. However, for the right person, an exciting challenge. To keep the learning process an enjoyable one, the role will be mentored and
skilled along the way, experientially. They will learn all about planning, sowing, growing, harvesting, running a stall, selling the produce and promoting the project. As well as learning the ways of plant care and most importantly people care in this pandemic era, the worker will also learn and take part in the social media journey including photography, video making & vlogging. This will expose the very real daily goals or challenges of such a lifestyle.
There is a further, specific long-term challenge here, associated with the role of ‘Market Gardener.’ This will be to recruit, train and retain the right people. I think perhaps this is a ‘hearts and minds’ challenge. Persuading unemployed skill-full people, that may have a totally irrelevant qualification, that local urban food growing is a meaningful and exciting
business, and a joyful job worth having.
In answer to the main question, we think that these aims make Thorlands Gardens a most unique project in the making.

That’s an amazing and very exciting vision Simon! Thanks for sharing it with us – how should anyone interested in your project get in touch with you?

Contact Simon on this email,