The ever-modest Cathy Maund of HCGA, the local gardening and environmental charity with gardens open to all.
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds
How long have you lived or worked in the area?
Although I've worked in the environs of Askew Road and Ravenscourt Park for 28 years, I actually live 30 miles away in the village of Cholesbury, at the top of the Chilterns above Tring. We moved when our kids came along. One of the advantages of living there is I have an acre of garden. And it means that when I'm not working, I can completely refocus.
Jack of all trades is probably more accurate
Where did you live before?
In Hackney and as a student at LSE (London School of Economics). I also lived in many parts of North London, which are now very trendy but weren't when I was there.
Have you noticed any particular local changes?
Obviously, a lot more housing has been built, but I think Askew Road has managed to keep its individual character.
Where are your favourite haunts?
Adams Café. Frances and her husband, Abdel, are so welcoming. It's where we go for our staff Christmas meal. Over the years I've introduced many friends to their authentic Moroccan food. I remember once when a friend asked for yogurt and she was politely told that Moroccan food was spicy but not hot and yogurt was not necessary. I enjoy cooking and have Diana Henry's cookbook, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, which includes the recipe for Adam's Café's pickles.
Where did you grow up?
In Chesham, close to where I live now, at the end of the Met line. I've only moved 30 miles in my entire life.
What did you do before running HCGA?
College and then for 8 years after I worked as an adventure playground leader, something you can definitely only do in your twenties. I've always worked in the voluntary-charity sector. I've worked for the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. I run garden-focused workshops at the Geffrye Museum, a real gem in East London but it's closed for the next 2 years. I also do some advisory work for other small charities.
What is the HCGA?
The Hammersmith Community Gardens Association although, since our expansion into neighbouring boroughs, we also have a working title of Healthy Community Gardening Activities. We manage four sites in the borough.
Where are they?
Two are community gardens, Loris Garden in W6 (near Jewson's), and the Godolphin Garden in W12; plus the Ravenscourt Park Glasshouses next to the café; and our fourth site, the Phoenix School Farm and Learning Zone, which we manage with the Academy, is in White City. We also work with Hammersmith Academy and are starting an exciting intergenerational project with the students and residents of the Elgin Centre.
Are any of the gardens open to the general public?
The two community gardens are, Loris Garden in W6 and the Godolphin Garden in W12. The Ravenscourt Park Glasshouses are open for advertised events only because we have activities going on throughout the week with a series of gardening and community projects. Our volunteer gardening sessions are open to everyone. We hold introduction sessions for potential volunteers on the first Wednesday of the month at 10 am in the glasshouses.
What community projects?
What we call Grow Well, which is therapeutic gardening for carers; and Get Out There!, retraining local unemployed people; and Men In Sheds. They all focus on health and wellbeing. We also have an extensive schools programme, plus family activities in the school holidays.
Who looks after the gardens?
The two community gardens are managed by volunteers. We're always looking for volunteers. In fact, we're currently looking for someone who can drive. I would encourage people to sign up to receive our newsletter about volunteering and local events.
What are your main events in W12?
Askew residents might know us through the two annual events we host on Starch Green (at the bottom of Askew Road): Turning on the Christmas tree lights; and May Madness, an evening party. We run them in partnership with ABN, the Askew Business Network, sponsored by local businesses. The next May Madness is coming up on May 12th.
When was the charity set up and by whom?
The first community garden was set up in Loris Road by local residents in 1984. I came on board in 1989 to help set up the second at Godolphin Road (W12). In 2004 we brought the derelict glasshouses in Ravenscourt Park back to life and they're now our headquarters. We've just been granted a long lease by the council and our next major project will be to replace both glasshouses and upgrade the facilities. We currently have just one plug and a cold tap!
What's your role?
My official title is Director but, as in any small organization, jack of all trades is probably more accurate.
Did you train in horticulture?
No, my parents and grandparents were keen amateur gardeners so I sort of learnt through osmosis, but I don't have any formal qualifications in horticulture. My degree was in social history.
How's the charity funded?
We get about 20 percent from the council, and the rest we have to raise from a mixture of grants and local fundraising. We have a pub quiz coming up on the 28th of March at the Thatched House. The pub quizzes are a good night out. We also run corporate team challenges for local businesses that are good fun.
What's the best part of your job?
Seeing the difference a project can make to some individuals who are very isolated. And working with a great staff and very supportive trustees.
Have you any hidden talents?
How do you relax?
Watching very down-market TV programmes. My kids despair of me.
Have you a tattoo?
If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?
I'm very lucky, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
Thank you, Cathy. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
PS Shortly after this interview, Cathy won the H&F Civic Honours Lifetime Achievement award.
To learn more about visiting and volunteering for the HCGA, visit www.hcga.org.uk