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Community Profile -

St. Raphael's Edible Garden

By Nadine Almanasfi
Illustrated by Nur Hannah Wan
Photography by Rehan Jamil

“Have you ever smelt dust after rain has fallen on it, you know that smell when rain falls for the first time after a long, dry period? Or wet soil when it’s broken up? All those kinds of scents are good for you, they lift you. When someone is trying to deal with demons inside their head, a focus on something small like that helps. That’s all we’re doing, we’re saying try this. Getting people to feel something like that is tremendously powerful.”

 

'Farmer Jim', as one of the younger gardeners likes to call him, doesn’t leave us out of this sensory experience either. Throughout our tour of St. Raphael’s Edible Garden, we are gently pushed to try things: to stick our hand into a pile of steaming hot compost, take a whiff of a cauldron of stinking comfrey tea, taste the peppery seeds of nasturtium flowers, or feel the warmth of freshly laid chicken eggs in the palms of our hands. 

 

The garden, which sits on the corner of Pitfield Way in Brent, is surrounded by residential housing. It’s firmly in the heart of the local community and without its neighbours, and the help of Sufra NW London, a food bank and community hub situated right next door, it wouldn’t be what it is today. 

 

The space used to be empty and was mostly a place to dump rubbish.

Local residents had been asking the council for years if anything could be done with it.

 

When Sufra moved their offices next door and helped the community to lobby the council, contractors working on a housing project in Wembley were hired to clear the space. Slowly the garden was built. It started with a few raised beds, then pathways were levelled out, and compost bins set up. Now a pergola is erected, tepee decking is laid out and there’s even a clay oven ready for use. They also hold regular courses such as their Growing Club, the Chicken Club and the Forest School (unfortunately now all on hold due to Covid-19). The fruit, vegetables and eggs from the community garden are also distributed at Sufra NW’s food bank or used to prepare food in their community kitchen. 

 

The most inspiring aspect of the garden is the way people have been brought together. They flit in and out of the garden as they please, for however long they want, and are mentioned in passing as if we have known them all our lives. While we are being shown around, a local resident, Joseph, walks in to check on the chickens and tend to some vegetables. We see Faramarz who is dealing with a pest problem. Nicholas, another member of the garden staff carries out the watering in the background with some earphones on. Humaira is mentioned in passing, who has great ambitions for the Forest School. There are labels with names everywhere. In the greenhouse you can find out who has grown chillies, tomatoes, yam, aloe vera and even a young kiwi seedling. 

 

As you enter the large steel gates to the garden, you’re greeted with a wooden bench in memory of Dorothy who passed away due to Covid-19. Her husband, Roger, and their grandchildren, asked if St. Raphael’s Edible Garden could find space for a bench in memory of Dorothy. Now it sits pride of place at the front of the garden. Roger comes in on a regular basis. Sometimes he takes part in courses, but other times he just takes a moment to sit down with his son on Dorothy’s bench.

 

The local residents have taken rightful ownership of this garden space, with the help of Jim and Nicholas, two incredibly dedicated and passionate garden staff. They are cultivating the herbs, vegetables and fruit at St. Raphael’s, as well as their own thriving local history.