Growing an inclusive community busy-ness in the heart of the city

Phil from Propagation Place

Alice Lee from Propagation Place at St Werburghs City Farm (SWCF) writes about the fantastic work of this volunteer-led community business. Even with a reduced volunteering programme for 2020, Propagation Place dispatched more than 2000 orders for vegetable plug plants.

Propagation Place at St Werburghs City Farm (SWCF) operates as a volunteer-led community business, with two year-round members of staff. We also employ some seriously amazing extra help through the growing season from our seasonal Project Assistants. And of course, none of it would work without our incredible volunteers.

Firstly, we support people to learn organic vegetable gardening and more propagation skills, connect with food growing systems, and offer experience in other areas such as maintenance and basic construction, social media, and customer relations.  The aim of unrestricted volunteering is to build confidence, increase wellbeing, and remove physical and social barriers to gardening, employment and inclusion in community. There are up to 18 people who volunteer at Propagation Place each week, some of whom join independently, and some of whom are referred. Our beautiful, peaceful, wheelchair-accessible garden provides an environment where people can experience a warm sense of community, find quiet in the heart of the city, engage in satisfying and productive activities and learn about plants.

Secondly, our plug plant business, running within the SWCF charity structure, offers volunteering and training programmes alongside a robust Community Business model. Our polytunnel, bursting with beautiful vegetable seedlings to be sold online locally and nationwide, also presents an innovative way to contribute to the local food economy within a limited physical space. Over the past three years we have developed our website and in 2020, despite the challenges of the pandemic, we maintained a reduced volunteering programme, dispatched more than 2000 orders for vegetable plug plants to customers across the UK and achieved a 4.8-star rating on TrustPilot.

Lots of people have been involved with Propagation Place over the years. Whether it was helping with the initial reclamation of three allotment plots into a community garden and polytunnel growing area, or a weekly commitment to the day-to-day sowing and packing of plants for customers, the project wouldn’t work without the dedication, attentiveness and enthusiasm of volunteers and committed staff.

There are many different reasons that people come to the garden and, because Propagation Place is committed to being an inclusive project, all are welcome! It is an important aspect of our ethos that everyone feels that they can bring their own unique character and qualities to the project and that all learning styles, expressions and identities are supported, acknowledged and encouraged. We aim to be an outstanding and truly equal community space.

Gardening offers a unique way to support people through life’s complexities. It is inherently therapeutic by nature and not only through fresh air and gentle (or more strenuous!) physical exercise – gardening can offer insights into the natural cycles and interactions which govern both plants and people. These in turn may be translated into helpful personal life lessons to encourage resilience.

All profits made through Propagation Place’s veg plant sales go back into St Werburghs City Farm where they help to fund the hugely important work that we do for people in Bristol and beyond.

Watering at St Werburghs City Farm

Read about the Equity Report, a community research project commissioned by St Werburghs City Farm. Rhian Grant, co-author of the report, has written for this blog about the formation of the project and the actions that the farm is taking to mitigate and remove barriers to access.

By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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