Before I headed Stateside, we’d tracked down four not-for-profit organisations, all which wanted to develop growing or sensory gardens to enhance their work, and my task was to visit the sites and meet the people behind them and hear their aspirations. Ultimately, I had to select the one most suitable for the objectives of our business school partner, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – and be able to accommodate almost 100 students.
Philadelphia is facing a lot of challenges such as high unemployment, so the need for community, food based, projects is profound. Everyone I met was passionate about making life better for their community, and all of organisations I visited are doing incredibly worthy work. So, it goes without saying that we want to work with them all, ASAP!
We’d been in touch with everyone via email before I headed out there, and they all said they thought the same thing about us – ‘wow’! They couldn’t believe we do what we do, and how we could help them, for free.
Meeting the people behind the charities and seeing their work firsthand has given me a personal insight. So, back at my desk when I’m drawing up the designs, I know who is going to be using each element.
There was so much community mindedness everywhere I went, and people who were changing negatives into positives. I came away in awe of the people I met and a feeling of how amazing it would be to help them one day.
Kevin Upshur is the man behind this initiative and is one of the warmest people you could wish to meet. Motivated by tragic personal experience, Kevin wanted to do something to prevent young people getting into gangs so set up a place where young people could go after school because statistics show that it’s between the hours of 5pm and 9pm that children are most vulnerable to being drawn into gang culture in the city.
He took a rundown old building and has worked so hard to turn it into a friendly space with a library and computer room, kitchen and other areas for young people to read or study.
It’s only recently opened and now Kevin wants to create an outdoor learning and growing area.
Kevin turned his own struggles into something that will really help others. Such a beautiful thing.
I went to see their allotment which had been established on the site of a former whiskey barrel factory on the edge of a disused railway line in a deprived area of the city. It had burnt to the ground and lay vacant for years until a group of residents started clearing it up themselves and then, with the support of the society, started growing crops fruit and vegetables there.
It’s entirely community run and owned so can never be developed and they have aspirations to develop the site as a community space so people can come together easier.
One of their programmes is delivering fruit and vegetable packages to local grandparents who look after their grandchildren.
It was an amazing site with some amazing characters.
Connie Lockwood set up this day centre for seriously disabled children in memory of her daughter Frankie. It’s been going a few years, and like many charities struggled a lot during the pandemic. There is no outdoor space for the children at all, and Connie is keen to establish a sensory, interactive garden to enhance the experiences of the children. Everyone knows the benefits of outdoor play so it would massively help them.
She said she’d do anything for the children.
This will be where we deliver our inaugural project. The first thing that caught my eye was the sheer scale of the place which operates Share Food Program’s distribution of food to hundreds of thousands of people across the Philadelphia region. We’re talking massive trucks, warehouses, forklift trucks and pallets piled with food. Coming from the UK, you can’t imagine a food bank on this scale.
It was obvious how hard they work, and what a logistical challenge it is. You got the sense that it’s a constant battle to make sure everyone who needs food is fed.
At the end of the car park is a modest farm space where they teach children about healthy eating and growing. They already had a plan before we came along to develop it to increase the scale and reach more children, for which they need planters, growing areas and teaching pods. So this is what we’re going to do with the students.
I met the teachers who absolutely love their job, and Ellie Kaplan, the farm manager was passionate about it, she explained that the project would give them some much-needed improvements and enabling them to offer more activities to more children.
They were really emotional when they found out we would be working with them and I went back to talk through ideas the next morning and there was so much excitement around the table. It was like making a Christmas list with a whole bunch of really excited people, and when Philadelphians are excited, they’re excited! I went home to my wife and told her she’d not as excitable as I thought she was after all!
I’m really looking forward to seeing the impact of the project.
We’re always looking for charity partners for our projects, so do get in touch if you think we can help you.