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The Herbert's
Community Garden

Resume: Welcome

Jill Hogan

Community Gardener

'Gardening gives the valuable understanding that life goes on, and that even if it's not how you'd planned, you can still make it work.'

The community garden at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum (the Herbert) was an initiative designed to enhance the quality of life and foster a sense of accomplishment among migrant communities residing in the vicinity of the Herbert. It exemplifies how horticulture can be leveraged to support individuals and positively impact the local community.

The communal garden was a venture that I took on after a colleague left to pursue new opportunities. Although I had never worked on a project like this before, I relied on my passion for wellbeing and connection to bring it to fruition. For the Herbert, the garden represented a new way of thinking about creating, exhibiting, and involving the community.


The funding for the garden was a combination of resources intended to serve the needs of migrant communities that lived within walking distance of the Herbert but had no access to a space to garden. This was a sister project to other gardens being developed at Foleshill Community Centre and Kairos Women Working Together. Each community garden was to use horticulture as a key to support people. For the Herbert's garden, I intended to provide for art pursuits and improve our neighbours' quality of life, sense of achievement, and community belonging.


Throughout my career, I have worked with people who have faced challenges in their lives. The group I was serving with this project was often starting a new life in a new country. Nurturing in the outdoors can be a unique means of accepting a new start in life and celebrating the potential. As Jill Hogan wrote, 'Gardening gives the valuable understanding that life goes on, and that even if it's not how you'd planned, you can still make it work.'


Using the New Economics Foundation's 'Five Ways To Wellbeing,' the project can best be described as it aimed to positively impact its community as holistically as possible:

1. Connect: My network in the region had been propelled with rocket fuel supplied by being the city's community engagement officer for the Turner Prize. From personal experience, I had felt the 'loss' when a project had ended due to funding and there being nothing else to take its place, so I had carefully nurtured my 'people' mycelium to strengthen the sinews through repeated contact. As a result, my relationships had spread organically. Although this project centred on refugee and migrant communities, its long-term success required 'the village' to come forward. In the end, a complex, diverse group came together, including a campaigning voluntary organisation calling for more green spaces, Coventry University, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Men's Shed, Integrate Coventry, Grapevine, St. Mary's GuildHall, departments of the Council, and Hozelock, who donated a watering system. The garden was to connect people from planning to execution. Shared interests and supportive friendships are believed to foster better mental wellbeing. A series of meetings were held to collate what the garden should look like, how it should be built, what it should contain, and how best it would serve the community.

2. Be Active: This term took many guises as it was necessary to offer variety to such a varied group of stakeholders. Some went to visit other local gardens, such as at the Weaver's House, to bring back ideas; others acted as links to complementary projects; some supported each other in coming to the Herbert for the first time using public transport or walking; some helped with the construction and, finally, planting.

3. Take Notice: Alongside the planning and building of the garden, I ran a series of complimentary art activities in the Herbert and the community where my target community resided. The reasons for the programme were to offer mindful nature-based creative opportunities, allow a group to come together, and encourage participants to come to the Herbert, as many had never ventured there. Inspiration came from the natural world in the UK and the countries where the participants originally came from. Painting, dyeing, planting, taking tea, object handling, poetry and cooking were just some of the activities we enjoyed together around a large square table, led by myself, the Herbert, visiting tutors and the group members.

4. Keep Learning: This project was one in which I had to adopt the purest (and most anxiety-provoking) method of community engagement delivery: the group were the experts, and we learnt together. I had a foundation with each of the stakeholders, which provided enough trust to still act as the facilitator whilst admitting I had never done a project like this before and knew little about gardening. I loved the adventure we took into heritage seeds using the Guildhall as our guide as they educated us on the trade routes, produce and history that Coventry had around herbs and spices. Allowing the project to move and grow as its stakeholders need is necessary but requires a particularly courageous mindset.

5. Give: At all stages, 'giving' was apparent. People gave their time, energy, seeds, knowledge, muscle power, enthusiasm, creativity, watering systems, and promotion—and that was just during the garden's creation. Moving soil while it snowed heavily was a notable 'giving' example!

After completing this phase of the community garden, plans were fashioned to ensure that the garden was sustained by the stakeholders and not the Herbert. I intended for the Herbert to be equal in status to the community members. 

Implementing projects in public spaces offers an opportunity to unite diverse groups of people who may not have had the chance to connect otherwise. This community garden adventure was a testament to the power of collaboration, creativity, and giving. It brought together individuals and organisations from different backgrounds and cultures to create something meaningful and beautiful that would benefit the community for years to come.

Project Gallery

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