St James housing estate in inner city Belfast is one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. None of the houses here have gardens meaning the people have no space to grow. There are no parks, green spaces or even community centres, meaning no space to socialise either.
At the centre of the estate an old allotment site lay dormant and unused for years. Bad planning meant the site had no water source and the people living on the estate had not been involved at all in it’s conception. A lack of ownership and water meant nothing had grown for years.
But all that was set to change when local man Danny Kilifin, 51, and his daughter Carla, 25, received Grow Wild funding to grow wild flowers and fruit trees on the site, creating a Garden of Hope for the people of St James.
“Creating the garden gave me something to do like, instead of just standing on street corners and getting into trouble like I used to,” Carla says.
“After ma mummy died I went through a rough patch, out drinking and that. I’d go to the graveyard and it would just make me sad and in a mood. But now I can go to the garden and it cheers me right up.
“It’s brought me and ma daddy closer as well it has. I love working beside him, we can have a laugh. It’s changed my life.”
The first problem Carla had to solve was the lack of water to the site.
“We know everyone in the area and there was a girl across from the site who let us run a hose from her house, through a hole in her wall. Everyone’s pitched in to help, it’s really brought the community together,” she says.
As more and more locals became involved with the garden things soon began to grow, with wild flowers and fruit trees becoming the catalyst for something even bigger. Today St James Garden of Hope is a fully fledged inner city farm with chickens, pigs, goats, ducks, rabbits and of course wild flowers.
“When it first started people didn’t think it would turn out as brilliant as it has. They thought the kids would just wreck the place, but no they’re up here at 7am before school.
“It’s really changed us so it has. St James’ was a very dark place, everybody always fought with each other and now it’s just changed everything. Everybody gets on a lot better with each other now. There are people that I wouldn’t have talked to before, but now we all get on. It has definitely changed people’s lives here.
“People’s perception of St James has been changed too. Before nobody from outside would come here, but now people from all over Belfast come. It’s really made our area stand out.
“For the right reasons,” she adds laughing.
“Loads of people come up and volunteer now, young and old. We’ve had birthday parties here and loads of school visits and after school clubs. People stop me on the street and ask me questions about what we’re doing on the farm, what time it opens and all that.
Carla has her own section of the garden where she grows vegetables and fruit to share with the local community.
“Because of Grow Wild funding we’re now getting toilets and heating as well which will make a big difference and mean we can be there for longer even when it’s not summer time.”
Members of the Chinese community, Belfast’s largest migrant population, also come and grow vegetables at the garden, bringing the two communities together.
What’s more Carla and the others now use Bog Meadows, a piece of land close by owned by the Wildlife Trust which was a no go area before an introduction through Grow Wild, to graze the animals daily.
“Before there was nothing round here for people my age, but now they’re all getting together and volunteering. It’s stopping people drinking as well because they think ‘Oh I better not go out and get drunk because I have to be up at 7 in the morning to let the animals out and I don’t want to have a hangover.’”
Since being involved with Grow Wild Carla has also started volunteering at the local after school club. A trained sports coach, Carla hopes she’ll find a job teaching football and other sports to young people.
Carla and Danny have created such a successful Grow Wild project that St James has become an exemplar and source of inspiration, visited by other Grow Wild projects looking for top tips! In fact Grow Wild has also been contacted by local people who have visited St James and been inspired to apply for seeds or funding themselves.