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Surrey Countryside Champions – Green Westcott Community Garden

Craig Freeman
By Craig Freeman
9th January 2024

Over the last few years, the volunteers of Green Westcott have created a thriving community project that is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when a community works together. With no funding (and no land initially), Green Westcott has worked hard to set up and maintain a garden that benefits and serves the local community.

From growing food and supporting the local environment to holding events and creating a wonderful social space for people to enjoy, the Green Westcott Community Garden has quickly become an important part of the village. We caught up with some of the volunteers behind Green Westcott to hear more about the work they do with the community garden.

1. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Please could you summarise who you are and what you do?

Green Westcott is a group of environmental warriors trying to make a change in our local community. We are:

Nancy, a mother of two grown-up children, lover of animals, nature and passionate about the planet more widely, – “I have been a Dramatherapist and Clinical Supervisor for the last ten years working in hospitals, prisons, schools and in private practice with individuals or groups of adults and children needing support with their mental health. In January, I am having a career change and I’m going to train to be a paramedic.”

Jon, father and husband – “I love working with people on community projects. I run a shop called Jon & Mum Groceries next to the community garden which is part of Westcott Community Hub CIC. I love helping to realise community ambitions and seeing what’s possible when groups come together with a common aim. I also love the cake that appears whenever the Gardener’s get together.”

Kate – “I’ve had a long-held fascination with the natural world and am passionate about protecting the environment and helping nature thrive wherever possible. I’ve been a gardener for the last 12 years, mainly for the elderly who sometimes need assistance keeping their gardens maintained. I’m keen to encourage gardening whilst working with nature rather than against it. I’ve loved seeing the project take shape and be a part of it.”

Jakki – “I have lived surrounded by the beautiful Surrey Hills all my life and have always felt a deep love for nature that provides us with so much that is easy to take for granted – fresh air, clean water, and healthy soil! I feel it’s important to be actively involved in initiatives that help change towards a more resilient and equal society and I hope that the community garden will continue growing into a caring community of people and nature working together to help life thrive.”

Rob – “Living in Westcott for the last 18 years has been an escape from the hubbub of working in London five days a week. I love everything outdoors from walking and running in the Surrey Hills to camping and exploring the beautiful British Isles. Although I’m not a natural gardener the space it provides to bring people together from all walks of life to meet and bring their various skills to bear is vitally important in creating robust and sustainable communities. It’s also great for mental health, wellbeing, and learning.”

Image of volunteers from Green Westcott Community Garden

2. How did the Green Westcott Community Garden project come about?

The Community Garden came about because we held a stall at the village fare and asked the residents of Westcott what ‘green’ ideas they would like Green Westcott to do to make Westcott more environmentally friendly. People were invited to post their ideas in a jar. We counted up the ideas and the one with the most was the one we focused on. That idea was the community garden.

3. What does the community garden aim to do?

The aim is to bring people in the community together to learn from one another and to grow food as a collective. We aim to use and reuse stuff, not buy new, and to find ways to be environmentally in tune with nature and encourage biodiversity. We use peat-free compost and don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides. We aim to nurture a feeling of respect for one another and (especially from Nancy’s point of view as a therapist) to create a safe space to enable communion with one another and support one another to foster good mental health.

Image of beetroot being grown at Green Westcott Community Garden

4. How did you get from the initial idea to where you are now?

The whole thing from the idea to actually getting a spade in the ground took approximately 2 years. The biggest problem we had was securing some land. Although there is plenty of land around Westcott, finding a plot we might use to grow stuff on for the community was difficult.

We approached the local landowners, Surrey County Council and Mole Valley District Council and, after many, many meetings and several false starts, we eventually looked elsewhere and approached the local church. They agreed we could use some of the land in the closed graveyard in St John’s Chapel. The first thing we needed to do was to get the maps of where all the graves were located. Many were difficult to find as they had been undisturbed for hundreds of years!

In January 2023, we started covering an area of unused ground with cardboard and manure in preparation for planting something. Being in a graveyard has its issues and at first, there were some concerns from the locals as to what we were actually doing in there, but we have been trying to allay fears and we run a strictly ‘NO DIG’ policy at the garden. In fact, the graves are now actually being cared for as part of what we do in the garden. We have started to clear some of the graves and to plant forget-me-nots around the graves we have cleared. Over winter when there is less to do in the garden, we are aiming to clear some more of the graves and clean them up. We are then hoping to get the Westcott History Society involved and see if we can find out a little more about some of the people buried there.

5. What sort of things would we find in the community garden?

Until recently (everything has just been harvested!) you would have found beans, peas, beetroot, potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes, artichokes, cucumber, chard, pumpkins, squashes, chillies, and garlic in the raised beds that we built. You could also find a planter full of herbs, bug hotels, a wildflower meadow, a planter full of salad stuff, a planter with pollinator-friendly flowers, alpaca poo(!) and lots of tea and cake! The cake is made each week by a different member of the community garden and is a big part of what we do. Not bad for a garden starting from scratch with no money or equipment!

The alpaca poo is definitely a big part of our success – we use the alpaca poo from local Westcott Alpaca’s – and we recently put some of our pumpkins and squashes into the Dorking Allotment Holders Association annual competition and we won in 6 categories which was brilliant and a real boost to the group.

Image of planter at Green Westcott Community Garden with a blackboard on the front showing information for volunteers

6. Why is this project so important to Green Westcott?

We at Green Westcott wanted to find a way of showing people a more sustainable way of being. Asking the people of Westcott what they wanted, and working to provide this, was one way of doing this. We have raised our profile in the village and our aim is eventually to have other projects which will be sustainable and other ideas to bring the community together such as a repair café, library of things, community café, games evenings, talks about sustainability, nature, and all things green! It is important to us at Green Westcott to do this because quite frankly you can’t rely on the government to do this – they keep reneging on their green promises and the world is in a climate emergency – we feel people need to drive and be the change instead of waiting for the powers that be to affect a change.

7. How can Surrey residents get involved and support this group?

There are loads of ways to get involved – obviously, come down to the garden to see us and have a cuppa and a bit of cake or get stuck in every Saturday from 11am until 2pm. We have recently hosted Mistletoe & Wine, an open mic night for people to share poetry over a glass of mulled wine. We try to hold events like this to encourage people to come along, but if you have an environmentally friendly idea you would like to launch in the village then get in touch and we will see if we can help to support it.

We have no funding so all we have achieved this year has been through kind donations from locals, dipping into our own pockets, or finding things on Freecycle and in skips! If people would like to donate things, we would be happy to take them (if we need them). It’s not just gardening we do, so if gardening isn’t your thing come down and construct something. We make bug houses and want to expand to making bird boxes and other habitats to encourage wildlife to the garden and more widely in the village.

Also, as we grow – we know we will need more land. So, if there is someone in the village who has some land that they would be happy for us to use to grow stuff for the village then please let us know – the more land we have, the more people we can feed.

8. Your team of volunteers does amazing work. When you’re not at the community garden, what is your favourite Surrey greenspace to explore?

Nancy – “When not at the garden – you will find me (Nancy) walking my rescue lurcher Shadow up on Ranmore and the surrounding Surrey Hills above Westcott.”

Jon – “I love the open fields near Westcott and especially the barley fields on the way to Wotton.”

Kate – “I love Leith Hill and the surrounding areas.”

Jakki – “When I get the chance, I enjoy walking from home to Leith Hill tower to get a cup of tea & maybe a slice of cake or veggie pasty and take in the amazing views.”

Image of Green Westcott Community Garden. Grey skies with glimpses of sunshine and a rainbow stretching over the garden

Follow Green Westcott on Instagram to support them and see the progress of their community garden.

Image of Green Westcott Community Garden, with white sign at the front of image and view of the garden with volunteers in the background