Building Community Participation

Can social issues in Caracas and difficulties in London really be solved using the same intervention – gardening? Though approaches need to vary from region to region, gardening has the power to bring together communities and heal social wrongs – be these wrongs as a result of warfare in Palestine, or anti-social behaviour in Hackney. 

After suffering an unexpected stroke in 2009 while teaching on a study trip to Venezuela, Sumita Sinha, an architect and then lecturer at London Metropolitan University began to reassess her life’s work. Following her recovery, Sumita founded Charushila, a small design charity for sustainable communities, which aims to work with young people through participation and engagement.

An intimate group of London Festival of Architecture goers sheltered from the summer rain in St. Mary’s Secret Garden on Pearson Street to hear Sumita chart the impressive success of the charity to date. With inspiring projects around the world, Charushila looks at small sites, working with the local community and children to consult with them on their dreams for the area. With limited materials and simple innovative design, the communities are prompted and encouraged to create better spaces.

One of the key principals to a successful project is knowing when to walk away. Sumita explains the importance of initiating a project, kickstarting the enthusiasm and teaching the community simple skills. However, the real success comes when the community begins to take ownership and responsibility of the space themselves. Sumita receives photographs regularly of new spaces and gardens being cleaned and created by communities she has worked with in the past. When a community learns to take pride in their area, the positive reactions are unstoppable!

Adopting similar methods used in her work in India, Palestine and Venezuala, Sumita is on a mission to see more growing spaces created and cared for across London. 

At St Mary’s Secret Garden on Pearson Street, the hosting venue of our talk, Paula Yassine has been working tirelessly to create a special space for the local community. Part of the great success of St Mary’s lies in its in forestry, conservation & horticulture training services for people with disabilities and other disadvantaged members of our community. This inclusive approach makes the garden a diverse and exciting place to visit, encompassing the true meaning of community. With a generous supply of flowers and plants on sale, as well as regular activities throughout the year, St Mary’s Secret Garden is a hugely popular space for locals.   

As a final treat, we are given a special tour of Bryant Court where a small scale garden intervention has had huge impact on the community. After extensive engagement and consultation with residents and Metropolitan Housing, an area for seating and planting was built, with the help of residents and volunteers. The space has brought pride and a sense of ownership to the area, with residents now taking responsibility for the space and planting. 

With a little prompt and some help getting started, there is potential in every community to improve their area and build a greater sense of connection. Through gardening and growing, truly great things can happen to create great places.

Mark CoxComment