This article was written by one of our volunteers, Jane Winter, who interviewed our founder and head gardener Tony earlier this year.
Our Head Gardener, Tony Kennell, is a man with a vision, one that has driven him throughout his life and has inspired him to establish this fabulous community garden.
Having trained as a bricklayer, with all the practical skills that implies, Tony found himself living in the Algarve for a number of years, which he describes as ‘a very steep learning curve.’ Here he had a small-holding of about 5 acres and, despite warnings about the climate and the soil (and the fact that it did, surprisingly, flood on his land occasionally), he decided to grow the most unlikely of Portuguese fruit – raspberries. ‘I was told it was much too hot for raspberries in the Algarve, but I was a member of a water co-operative so water was comparatively cheap and it came in a big pipe. So long as I watered the raspberries and it didn’t go above 38 degrees, they were fine.’ When the fruit were ripe, he would collect two or three people to help him pick them, and then, ‘in the afternoon I’d hop in the van and drive round the Algarve, knocking on people’s doors.’
This determination to work the land and to make the land work for him has continued ever since. Tony is clear that he has needed to be outside all his life – ‘being outside, growing things’ – and on his return to the UK he completed a 2-week course on permaculture at Monkton Wyld in Dorset: ‘I came back to Worcester, already probably aware of Transition and joined them because I no longer had ground of my own.’ He chaired the Worcester Transition group for about 10 years, during which time the search was on for a piece of ground on which to establish a community garden. As he put it, ‘I had just retired. What could I do for the next 10 or 15 years? What can I do to help Transition grow and be stronger?’ He, Warwick Neale (Worcester City Council) and Arthur Rowe (Worcester Orchard Workers) identified likely-looking sites – ‘We got in a car and looked at them all.’
The chosen site of the Old Stables on Pitchcroft was, according to Tony, ‘mostly scrub, some rubbish and tipped soil. Not horrendous, not moon-like, but it was a mess’. Other members of Transition were busy holding down full-time jobs, so the task of clearing the site fell mainly to Tony. This monumental task, clearing a wasteland laid on a concrete base, would normally cause a single individual to think twice. Not Tony, however. When asked how long this took, he rightly points out, ‘It doesn’t end. Maybe a couple of years for the initial process of clearing but it’s never finished, being redone and done again.’
Tony’s original vision evolved over time: ‘I wanted to be here, doing things and I wanted other people to join me, to grow veg basically because that was what I knew about. Ideas about excess produce – eat it, give it away, sell it, use it. Make sure it’s all used.’ He is passionate about what he calls ‘green-growing’, and is organic in his approach, although he is a pragmatist.
Now he is delighted at the renewed impetus brought by Steve Dent, Jon Bodenham and more recent volunteers. Worcester Community Garden has been awarded charitable status; the site is jointly leased by Transition and Stepway and provides a peaceful yet thriving community space, acting as host and venue for a variety of workshops and other activities. Although, sadly, the increasingly common floods (did Tony bring them with him from Portugal?) that interrupt work on the garden might appear to be disheartening, the determination of volunteers, inspired by Tony, means that any damage is quickly remedied.
The garden has new benches, a floating colony of bees (which will be expanded) and a project to build and showcase small-space gardens. There are discussions afoot regarding the development of a cutting-flower garden, and a wild-flower garden is in hand. This, in addition to the many polytunnels, an orchard area and lots of raised beds for fruit and vegetables.
The last word is Tony’s. ‘The aims basically are the same: to use this place, not to waste things and to spread the message which is transition – we have to change.’