“We’ve taken what was essentially a derelict community garden and brought it back to life. We love it,” says Jen White, CEO of Bradford Organic Communities Service (BOCS).
BOCS took over Wibsey Community Gardens in 2016 and have turned them into a successful site, growing organic fruit, salad and vegetables. However, BOCS is more than just a community garden. It also operates two further key community, and environmentally impactful, organisations. There’s Bradford Community RePaint, which has been operating since 2001, collecting reusable household paint from waste recycling centres and selling it at just £1.50 per litre to people in need across the city. There’s also Scrap Magic, which recycles waste products to use as safe craft materials, providing affordable and sustainable resources for craft and play for local families.
The environmental impacts of recycling, saving waste from landfill, and growing local fruit and veg for the community are plentiful. “We work to protect and preserve the environment by reusing, reclaiming and recycling as much waste product as possible,” says White. “We recovered 187 tonnes of paint that would have gone to landfill in the last year.” But there’s also a deeper social impact that BOCS has. “There’s really high levels of poverty here, with some very strong challenges around health and wellbeing,” says White. “The challenges we see people experiencing are very closely linked to deprivation and that’s around really poor health and wellbeing with very low life expectancy.”
BOCS has set out to tackle that via its community garden, which offers up numerous volunteering opportunities, and has provided a massive need for people affected by such issues. “It’s beautiful,” White says. “Being present in the gardens and gaining experience in the different areas and that feeling of working in a team to grow things brings a strong feeling of calm and community for people. We see a lot of people here who find it difficult to be in small enclosed areas that are benefiting. I think sometimes a lot of the work we do is around prevention: deterioration of people’s health and wellbeing is prevented.”
Also, the healthy produce being grown by and for the community is helping tackle health inequality issues. “We offer organically grown fruit and veg, which isn’t always that easy to access, and you can buy any quantity you want,” says White.
And there’s plenty of work to be done in the sizable gardens year-round, with it being just short of three acres. It contains two commercial size polytunnels and the triple arch polytunnel, along with a recent addition of 30 external beds and an eight-bay composting site. Plus, they have an apiary with bees and they sell the honey directly to the community. The gardens also double up as an educational resource for children, as well as a place that they can access for fun. “We work in primary schools with after school clubs,” says White. “We grow on site at the primary schools and then as part of that we bring those children onto our site to do activities. We’ve got a really good kitchen, so we can forage, cook and eat but we’ve also got a wild area for play, a fire pit for cooking and dens set up.”
It’s also proved to be a valuable resource for young people to develop skills and work experience. “Last year we had 14 Kickstarters, of 18-25 year-olds, for six months, and the ones we had were typically young people living in care or people who have things like autism who felt more comfortable being outdoors.”
BOCS have also been a part of Power to Change’s Leading the Way programme. “I really wanted to be part of it and to meet new people,” says White. “I wanted to hear different stories from different parts of the country and to be challenged on what I’m doing and hear different ideas. The mentoring and one-on-one support has been fantastic.”
Although for White, what they’ve already managed to create by turning an unused derelict space into a thriving community garden that benefits the people of Bradford has already been special. “It’s like a little green oasis,” she says. “We love it.”