If you’ve walked past the Derinton Community Centre in Tooting recently, you may have noticed vibrant yellow planters bursting with colourful flowers, where rubbish used to reside, and young people sitting on bright benches doing their homework.

Those young people, who attend the CARAS youth club on the site, worked with a team from Transition Town Tooting to build the planters and the benches and paint them over a number of weeks. They sowed seeds early on in the project and also chose plants that now grow there, during a visit to Share Community Garden

The project came about after the youth club made a visit to Tooting Community Garden.  This led to the idea of the teenagers creating an urban garden on-site over eight weekly Saturday sessions.

“Before this, I didn’t know how to plant and grow plants, but I learned how, and I enjoyed making the planter too”, said Waseem, one of the young people who transformed the space.

CARAS (previously Klevis Kola) is a community based organisation working with refugees and asylum seekers.  The gardening project was developed with the young people, encouraging teamwork and communication, developing and practicing new skills and meeting new people in the wider community.

Jenny Teasdale, who coordinated Transition Town Tooting’s involvement said,

“Working with these young people over the last couple of months has been wonderful. Together, we imagined the possibilities of an urban garden, creating a mood board of ideas, and then we made some of those ideas a reality.

Everyone planted seeds in the first few weeks and the kids tended them throughout, watching sunflowers, beans and salad leaves growing, ready to be planted out in the final weeks. With wooden materials from the community garden, the kids cut, assembled and painted planters and benches – making design decisions on the fly and developing new skills along the way. As a group, we decided what plants to grow and where to site what we built.

I know I wasn’t the only person sad to see the project come to an end, having enjoyed every second of the process. At the same time, we are all really happy to see the transformation in just two short months.”

CARAS Youth Coordinator, Molly Abraham spoke about the project,

“The gardening project with TTT has been a fantastic opportunity for young people who attend CARAS to gain skills, share knowledge and create something we are all extremely proud of.  It’s been amazing to watch the group grow in confidence as they became proficient with drills, saws and secateurs, and to relax into sharing stories of growing in their home countries.  Working with the wonderful team from TTT has been a real pleasure for all of us and we are excited to be able to develop the work, and the friendships, over the coming year.”

“We painted the pallet planter and the yellow planter, and I sowed flowers and beans. They’re still growing”, said Hafso, shown here painting.

Spurred on by the development of the space and the enthusiasm of the youth group, we are delighted to announce that CARAS and Transition Town Tooting are now working in partnership with the RHS over the next year, running monthly sessions with the youth club and adults at CARAS.

The new project is called Rooting in Tooting, and is part of the RHS’s Greening Grey Britain scheme. We’ll be developing more flourishing, attractive growing ideas that will transform the site.  This practical, experiential project is just one of the ways CARAS is helping newly-arrived people to integrate into the vibrant community of Tooting.

Chris Young from the RHS led a session with the youth group last Saturday:

“I was very excited to make my first practical visit to the CARAS youth club, and had a great afternoon working with the youth club members and volunteers. We started by talking about our project to grow plants in various spaces surrounding the centre and then looked at propagating some herbs that could be used later on.

I gave a quick demonstration of how to take cuttings from the plants I’d brought and then everyone got stuck in and had a go.We finished up by extracting seeds from dry seed heads and sorting them into origami seed packets we’d made earlier.

Everybody was incredibly helpful, enthusiastic and welcoming. I was also impressed that some of the young people knew the plants I brought and told me about how and where they grow in their home countries.Fingers crossed that the cuttings root!

Looking forward to my next visit for the community fun day on Saturday where we’ll set up stand for the project .”

We’ll be promoting the new project at the CARAS Family Fun Day on Saturday, 22nd August.