Developing a community garden in Bramley, Leeds

A young boy and two women present some vegetables they've grown in their community garden

How Alison Brewster used funding to create a space to grow fruit and vegetables for her local community.

I’ve been an Engage Mutual customer since 1986 and when I heard last year about the Foundation Community Awards, I immediately began thinking about how it could help The Friends of Bramley Baths – a volunteer project I’m involved with. The baths mean a lot to me. I live just a few doors down and my husband (who is sadly no longer here) used to swim there as a boy. Bramley Baths is an iconic Grade II listed building built on the site of a foundry – its chimney can be seen from all around Leeds – and ever since Leeds City Council announced it would no longer support the Baths, it’s been run by our volunteer group. The pool and public bath-house opened in 1904 and its purpose was to provide a space for the local community to enjoy. We run the Baths as a not-for-profit amenity and we want to grow a sense of community in an area that is quite deprived. Our aim is to provide an affordable space for health and fitness, maintain the beautiful building and ensure the Baths stay true to their founding ethos of being a place that brings the community together. I see this as an important personal investment in my neighbourhood and also in the future of the wider area.

“I see this as an important personal investment in my neighbourhood but also in the future of the wider area.”

I was excited about how the Award could help us develop the Baths role in the community. I’m a keen gardener and our idea was to transform a small piece of land attached to the Baths into a new community garden. The garden would encourage volunteers to grow fruit and vegetables that could then be given away free to the community.

“We can do things which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.”

To demonstrate how the project could succeed, we set about gauging interest in the idea by introducing tomato plants to the balcony in the swimming pool and inviting swimmers to water the plants. Soon enthusiastic helpers were growing a small tomato crop which we gave away. Seeing this made me think we had a really good idea for a project that would bring all types of people together. In the proposal I wrote how the scheme would work and what assistance we’d need. I listed how we’d spend the money on equipment such as gardening tools, seating and of course seeds, and assistance from professional gardeners. The plan emphasised how these basics could help the garden become self-sufficient and help the community’s talents, resources and services grow. I told them I was confident that we could involve 500 people in the project during the first 12 months.

“Go for it, it’s certainly worth the effort.”

I’m still amazed that the project won an award. When school children visit and learn about how to grow fruit and vegetables, or I go out and give produce away in the local community, I feel proud of what has been achieved through our hard work. The financial support the Foundation Community Award provided meant we can do things which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. And if someone is reading thinking about getting involved I’d say: “Go for it, it’s certainly worth the effort.”