Downton Actor Backs Council Green Spaces Scheme

Jim Carter says other boroughs should take their lead from Hounslow

Jim Carter in his Hampstead garden with wife Imelda Staunton and dog Molly. Picture: Greenfingers
Jim Carter in his Hampstead garden with wife Imelda Staunton and dog Molly. Picture: Greenfingers

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October 2, 2023

A Hounslow Council scheme has received celebrity backing after calls to extend it to the whole nation. Hounslow’s Grow for the Future, a programme that aims to turn wasteland into allotments and other green spaces, has also been awarded support from the government and the Greater London Authority, with £165,000 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

Now Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter OBE has thrown his weight behind the programme. Carter is an avid horticulturalist and is the patron of Greenfingers, a charity creating gardens for children’s hospices, alongside his wife Imelda Staunton.

The TV star urges “all local councils to take a lead from Hounslow,” with the council’s Cllr Salman Shaheen pushing for the first-of-its-kind policy to be introduced nationwide. As Cabinet Member for Public Spaces, Cllr Shaheen is planning to convert up to 27 acres of unused council-owned into new allotments, community gardens and orchards to grow food in a cost-of-living crisis and pair them with local schools to teach urban children about healthy living, sustainability and biodiversity.

Carter recently gave evidence to the House of Lords Horticulture Select Committee arguing gardening should be taught in schools to get children outside and have less screen time following the pandemic. Grow for the Future’s first orchard project is already underway, transforming an underused, empty space in Feltham, where a wildflower meadow has already been seeded and where apple, pear and cherry trees, and raspberry and blackberry bushes will be planted in the upcoming season.

Local school children are collaborating with the activities including growing sunflowers for the new site. A second project is also planned for an orchard on a neglected space in Cranford which is currently targeted by fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour. Both sites are expected to be in bloom for next spring. A third site will see new allotments brought to Hatton.

Hounslow Council has also given 38 schools and 25 nurseries across the borough free fruit trees to plant on their grounds as part of its drive to plant 20,000 new trees by 2026.

Jim Carter said, “I am delighted to add my wholehearted support to Hounslow Council’s Grow for the Future initiative. The brilliance of this project lies in its simplicity. Take unused wasteland and utilise it for the benefit of young people who have little or no access to outside space.

“Get outside. Turn off the screen. Nurture plants. Grow food.

“I am a keen advocate of gardening, with its self-evident physical and mental health benefits, being admitted on to the national curriculum and Grow for the Future is a wonderful stepping stone towards achieving this aim.

“I urge all local councils to take a lead from Hounslow and to introduce similar initiatives in their own boroughs. This is an idea whose time has come. Grow for the Future.”

Cllr Salman Shaheen, Cabinet Member for Recreation & Public Spaces on Hounslow Council, said, “I stand firmly behind Jim Carter’s call for gardening and horticulture to be placed on the national curriculum. But for this important vision to be realised, schools need the space to allow kids to learn and grow amongst nature. It’s vital that this is an opportunity not reserved for the few, but enjoyed by all. So it’s up to us, on Britain’s councils, to give children, especially those from state schools in often deprived urban environments, the green space they need.

“We are taking wasteland that has lain empty for years and putting it to use equipping our children with vital life skills and educating them on biodiversity and sustainability, while supporting their mental and physical health in the wake of the pandemic.

“It is fantastic that Jim Carter supports this unique new programme. I hope other councils across the country will be inspired to take unused land and open it up as an educational resource so that we can see gardening and horticulture on the curriculum where they belong.”

Rory Bennett - Local Democracy Reporter

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