Written by Editorial Team, DonateToday
Published: Tuesday, 12th December 2017

'Unless you have family, there's nobody to talk to' – elderly activist enlists charity's help to turn desolate space into community hub

'Unless you have family, there's nobody to talk to' – activist enlists charity's help to turn desolate space into community hub

Written by ##author:callumpatterson## for DonateToday

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Irene's community garden has helped bring her local community closer together

Hackney resident, Irene, succeeded in gaining help from Groundwork’s Transform scheme and its Vacant Lot Project to create a communal garden for herself and her neighbours to enjoy


Living in a big building like the one in which Irene resides in London can certainly be lonely. ‘Sometimes you don’t know the people who live on the floor above or the floor below,’ she says. ‘Unless you have family, there’s nobody to talk to.’

This isolation was what inspired Irene to do something about the ‘desolate’ area of land close to her flat. ‘It was empty,’ she says. ‘It needed filling up with people – they were going to put a house there. No, we need to space to breathe.’ 

Casting around for some means of providing people with a place to congregate, as well as preserving their ‘space to breathe,’ Irene came upon Groundwork – a charity that is trying to make the world a more environmentally-friendly place by encouraging community-minded people to help look after their local area.

It's really active there

With support from the charity’s Transform scheme and its Vacant Lot Project, Groundwork and What It Projects Ltd were able to: create 40 bespoke vegetable plots; convert old pram sheds into tool sheds; provide chalk, noticeboards, a bank of tools, a full growing season of gardening sessions; and support the community to create a committee to run the garden long term – all under Irene’s supervision, of course.

"It's worth a million to me!"


When asked about how she feels about the project after its completion, Irene isn’t shy about singing its praises. ‘It’s worth a million to me,’ she beams. ‘It’s really active there. If you’ve got a space where you can sit and people can come and talk to you, and you can grow things, it brings people together.’


Inspired by her initial success, Irene has continued to work with Groundwork to further improve her local community. With help from the charity, she applied to paint giants Dulux for funding to create a sunrise mural which was designed and painted by the local residents themselves.

Inspired by her initial success, Irene has approached Groundwork for help with further projects

An incredibly active member of her local community, Irene has also attended courses on Food Safety Hygiene, Community Champion Training and taken part in Groundwork’s Vacant Lot Celebration Bus Tour. She also attends a Resident Liaison Group to help manage local issues and monitor estate cleaning and services.

Possibly her most daring endeavour, however, would have to be the sky dive she undertook just a year after inspiring the creation of the community garden to raise money for a local hospice – is there anything this lady can't do?

Regular Visitor

In more recent years, Irene has helped run the Craft for a Cause club, as part of the charity’s Silver Livings programme. With her usual boundless enthusiasm, Irene has worked with Fabrications in Borough Market to create draught excluders, hot water bottle covers, scarves, hats and blankets which given as gifts to clients of the Hackney Volunteering and Befriending service. 

While the funding for these projects has now finished, Irene is still a regular visitor to the Groundwork office in Hackney; popping in for a chat to discuss her ideas for a new project and picking up a few eggs from the charity’s hens – a true community ambassador.