On a dull, grey morning in February I pulled up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital site for my first day out as a Project Officer on the Health for Life in the community programme. I was excited but also nervous – as I am a food growing novice! But walking up to the site I was intrigued to see five raised growing beds, a huge pile of compost and bags full to overflowing with sand. I met up with Jacob, who leads the green gym sessions at the Health for the Life food growing space at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who told me the various plans he had for the area. However, one thing that struck me was that the site was completely open – as in anyone can wonder in! Was he not worried people may steal the food they are growing?! Jacob laughingly told me that was the whole point of the area, for the entire community to enjoy an open space and to make food growing accessible to all. I thought this was a great idea, for people (like myself) who have no experience in growing food, to still enjoy the benefits of fresh produce!
Having arrived at the site for 8:30am and the volunteers not arriving until 10:00am, I was absolutely freezing and more than ready to get stuck in with the work to try and restore feeling to my toes! Today we had around 10 volunteers from Aston University, who were running a volunteering week, and 10 retail managers from Marks and Spencer to come lend us a hand. After getting suited and booted, it was off to work we go! And with shovels thrown over our shoulders and wheelbarrows at hand, it was inevitable that someone was going to break out into song! We split off into two teams; those who would move the compost into the raised beds and the other to lay sand ready for slabbing. Obviously this turned into a competition to see who would finish first. I worked with the compost team, or ‘the shovellers’ as we called ourselves, who came up with the innovative idea of building a ramp so we could offload the compost even faster. I may be slightly biased but I’m going to say ‘the shovellers’ were a clear winner!
I thought it was great to see the students and the retail managers working together, chatting and learning from each other. This event was also seen as a mentoring session, for the students to hear from professionals to learn how they got into the industry, which I thought to be a resounding success!
After lunch I can only say that the weather took a turn for the worst. I think we experienced every form of weather possible; rain, hail, snow and eventually the sun made a brief, but welcomed appearance. But in true British fashion, we carried on. With the compost done, some of the volunteers went up to the woodland walk. Where they helped plant tress and make a path using wood chippings. One thing I love is meeting new people from all different walks of life, which is one of the many great aspects of volunteering. From talking to some of the students, it was fantastic to hear that even though conservation work and food growing was something that they have never done before, they were all really enjoying it. Some of them were even considering returning later on in the year to see how the site progresses in the future – and know that they were a part of the journey!
At the end of a busy day we took a step back and admired just how much work we had all done. It was amazing to see how the site changed over a couple of hours. With the volunteers off, thanking us for a great day, it was home for me as well. I returned muddy, wet and with muscles I didn’t even know I had aching! But happy having experienced a fantastic day!
By Katie Jepson