Transforming the Story Garden

With Westminster Kingsway College’s help, a desolate patch of wasteland in the heart of London has been transformed into a vital and beautiful space for the whole community. In the process, more than 150 young college students have gained invaluable work experience working on the site.

The 1-acre site, between the British Library and The Francis Crick Institute to its north, was derelict, unused and unloved until The British Library (the site’s owners) and the developers Stanhope worked with the charity Global Generation (a charity that specialises in ecological education and urban food growing as a foundation for connecting people to nature) to plan a temporary urban community garden, while The British Library consults on its longer-term redevelopment of the site.

The garden is somewhere for people to come and plant and cook together; a space for people and the natural world. The garden has growing space in planters, an orchard, a community kitchen and office in converted containers, a supported community allotment, a straw bale roundhouse and a MAKE space (in partnership with UAL Central St Martins and Somers Town Community Association). The garden enables both Global Generation and teams from the British Library to deliver projects for the local community of Somers Town.

Kim Caplin, Westminster Kingsway College Principal, explains: “Our involvement in this fantastic project started when Georgia Jacob from the University of the Arts London contacted me to see how the college could support the garden’s creation. The college is always looking for real work opportunities for our students and this provides an amazing opportunity for students to demonstrate the skills they have learnt on their courses. We are delighted to be able to participate in such a worthwhile community project.”

It became apparent that a lot of work was needed to get the Story Garden fit for use by the public, including new paths; fully plumbed-in sinks, both inside and outside; lights and other electrical installations.

Enter Dean Gibson, the Programme Manager for our Plumbing, Electrical Installation and Construction courses for 14-19 year olds. He decided to harness the skills of his Construction Skills Level 1 students to help get the Story Garden up and running for the local community.

Around 150 young people are on the college’s Construction Skills courses and Dean and his staff put the students into teams, each with specific skills. For example there were construction teams (painters, carpenters and bricklayers) and teams of plumbers and electricians. The work that was carried out included: ground work (paving and concreting), plumbing appliances into the toilet areas, painting rooms, sanding and varnishing floors, and fixing fence panels.

Each team of students did a two-week rotation at the site, which is just a 15-minute walk from the college’s King’s Cross campus, where they usually study.  And, just like on any other building site, the construction team did their two week rotation first, and only when their work was complete, could the other student teams like plumbers, electricians, and painters and decorators, do their work.

Westminster Kingsway student laying a path

The college was careful to ensure that the students got the maximum benefit from their time on-site, with the minimum possible disruption to their studies. As Dean explained: “We made sure that each team’s two weeks of work experience fitted into the timetabled practical elements of their course, so they could do their work experience around their usual studies. It’s been great for the students to be able to use the skills that we’ve been teaching them, in a real practical situation, and to benefit local people.”

The college’s work is now complete and the Story Garden is ready for use. As Kim Caplin says: “The result is a beautiful garden that everyone can enjoy. The students and Dean’s team have done a wonderful job and I know they learned a lot in the process, as well as gaining really useful work experience.”

To find out more about the Story Garden, please visit their website.

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