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Growing the Social Role of Botanic Gardens

It is a paradox of the modern age that many people have become disconnected from the natural world at precisely the time when the threat from climate change and species extinction, both plant and animal, has never been greater and is predicted to get progressively worse.  The case for unlocking the potential in botanic gardens to help educate and re-connect their local communities with the world of plants, as well as showcasing models for sustainable living, is a powerful one.  This is the working assumption behind the project ‘Growing the Social Role of Botanic Gardens’.
In 2009, BGCI commissioned research into the social role of botanic gardens.  Generously funded by Calouste Gulbenkian, the study was carried out by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG), University of Leicester, UK, and culminated in the report ‘Redefining the role of botanic gardens: towards a new social purpose’. 

Building on this report, and with continued support from Calouste Gulbenkian, BGCI is now working with two botanic gardens in the UK to develop their social role – Ness Botanic Gardens, Liverpool and Winterbourne House and Garden, Birmingham.  Staff from the gardens have participated in three workshops where they have spent time examining and discussing their respective roles in society and exploring ways in which they can develop these roles further.  Facilitated by RCMG and BGCI, the workshops have also had expert input from the Eden Project who has enormously valuable experience in how to engage with local communities.  The project is also providing funding for each garden to develop a small scale project:


Urban Veg



Planting out seedlings and seed sowing Winterbourne 


 Planting out seedlings and seed sowing at the Urban Veg project plot


Winterbourne House and Garden, part of the University of Birmingham, have created Urban Veg, a community based vegetable garden designed as a two way cultural exchange and learning experience for the Islamic communities of Birmingham and the Garden. 

Despite the fact that Birmingham has a higher number of Muslims than any other local authority area, this community is currently under represented in the demographics of the garden.  The aim of the project therefore is to build stronger relationships with this group. Fifteen participants turn up at the garden each Wednesday to grow vegetables.  To help them become better gardeners, they are participating in a series of workshops on sowing, planting and maintenance techniques. 

The Urban Veg project workshops emphasise water conservation, sustainable growing media, chemical pollution, wildlife awareness and how to reduce food miles and carbon footprints. There will also be guidance and advice on growing at home with the aim of communicating the messages to a wider audience.  The final harvest will take place in October, but to mark the end of the BGCI project, there will be a mini-harvest in July where participants can invite up to 10 guests. 

The garden is producing interpretative material for Urban Veg in English and project related languages.  This includes a regular newsletter, posters and leaflets.  The project is being documented through photographs and these will be the focus of an exhibition at Winterbourne during March 2012, to coincide with Islam Awareness Week. Click here to read an account of setting up Urban Veg by Phil Smith at Winterbourne House and Garden.


Planting out seedlings All generations   
All generations working together: Planting out seedlings at the Urban Veg project plot
 Preparing the labels for the Urban Veg project plot in Arabic


Engaging Secondary Schools

 Shorefields college Yr7 visit
 Students involved in the science workshops during their visit to Ness Botanic Gardens
Identification of pond dipping creatures
 Student identifying pond dipping creatures at Ness Botanic Gardens

Ness Botanic Gardens are located close to the city of Liverpool.  Although a thriving metropolis of over one million people, Liverpool is one of the most deprived areas in the UK.   Ness Botanic Gardens, part of the University of Liverpool, are keen to broaden their education programme and engage with students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is also an opportunity for the Ness Botanic Gardens to broaden their learning programme provision to the 11-16 age group which currently rarely visits their site.

Working with a College in Liverpool, the Garden is running a series of science focused workshops for Year 7 (11-12 year olds) and Year 10 (14-15 year olds) over a six week period.  Students are getting their hands dirty, experiencing what it is like to plant and grow vegetables as well as learning about important scientific concepts linked to the National Curriculum such as photosynthesis and climate change.

Teachers at the College hope that this project will provide the seeds for establishing a long term working relationship between the school and the Garden, and that the benefits will last beyond the project's completion to inspire students' lifelong interest in the sciences.










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With expert support from 

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