A remarkable partnership between horticulture and renewable energy, Energy Garden, the first city-wide project of its kind, aims to improve the lives of local communities through a 'green' renovation of London Overground stations.
The project takes an innovative approach to promoting civic participation, clean energy co-operatives and community well- being, helping to make London a low-carbon shining example. In just six years, it has grown from one planting on a barren section of track to 30 completed community gardens growing flowers, fruit and vegetables in both traditional planters, beds and living walls on stations across London.
Energy Garden began with a project called Edible Bus Stop. We installed a community vegetable garden at a bus stop in South London and from this the pilot for Energy Garden was born on the platform at Brondesbury Park. This was a fantastic way to bring green space to the community, in a place they visited every day. I then started to work in partnership with Groundwork and Transport for London to build on the idea. This was funded by the People's Postcode Lottery, who awarded us a £750,000 grant. Today, there are 67 community groups across London working with Energy Garden, who provide the support for these incredible communities.
In partnership with Repowering, Transport for London and Network Rail, Energy Garden works to add natural beauty to London's Overground stations while raising awareness of renewable energy generation. The development of community gardening spaces in and around transport infrastructure helps promote biodiversity, sustainability and welfare of the local area, supporting healthier and safer communities throughout London. These new-found gardening spaces have on-site solar energy providing lighting, water and other small-scale station amenities which both foster the improvement of London's air quality and empower community energy schemes. Green platforms can make commutes less stressful, commuters find the stations nicer places to be and interact positively with both gardens and volunteers.
The health benefits of being outdoors are well demonstrated and the NHS increasingly refers people to non-clinical services such as community gardening schemes. By bringing people of all ages together to create new green spaces, we hope to actively tackle many of the social issues plaguing public policy, from youth unemployment and fuel poverty to mental and physical health issues. Active gardening sessions connect people with the benefits of the whole foods they grow and then eat; and the gardens increase urban biodiversity leading to better air quality and more abundant wildlife. Almost all of our stations have thyme, mint, and rosemary, which are perfect for pollinators and ensure there is enough vegetation and diversity for the entire season. The Energy Gardens at the Finchley Road and Frognal stations are planted with lavender, which is rich in nectar and flower, while Willesden and Bush Hill Park have Crataegus and Rosa rugosa to provide for honey bees. Moreover, hedgerows, like the ones planted at Bush Hill Park and Willesden, act as a screen to filter air pollution and noise, while Penge West and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury have been renovated with the first of many living walls filled with plants to clean the air around the platform.
Completed Energy Garden stations, where local residents have been trained by professional gardeners to grow and maintain crops, produce bountiful yields of vegetables and fruit — broccoli, carrots, aubergines, beans, strawberries and even hops. Crops from the garden are turned into quiches, samosas and Energy Garden Ale to be shared with local people and food banks. Alongside practical gardening skills, volunteers can learn how to install solar panels, which not only provide lighting and water but enable communication with other gardening groups via solar-powered interactive message boards. Gardening clubs from London schools and youth groups take part in the community gardening sessions and the project also supports an AQA-accredited Youth Training programme, with the aim of engaging 16-19-year-olds in renewable energy and community development.
Energy Garden has so far:
To ensure the project's future, we launched our Community Bond Offer to the public at the Museum of London on 6 June 2018. The UK's first IF ISA registered bond upholds equitable treatment for all members, whether individuals or organisations. Money raised through the Community Bond Offer will enable Energy Garden to purchase a portfolio of solar photovoltaic (PV) sites (roof- and ground-mounted) across the country. While providing a return to investors, the aim is to distribute income generated from the sale of solar electricity across the whole Energy Garden group. This, together with the solar panels installed in gardens at stations and depots, will create annual funds to pay for garden maintenance, school programmes, training programmes, plants, seeds, tools and many more new gardens, to leave a lasting green legacy.
Energy Garden was featured on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours on 18th November 2018. You can find the programme at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00014k8. The Energy Garden story starts at 28:15.