Urban Growing


The We Can Grow project was the third step in a continuum of community engagement, community learning and social action that begun in 2010 with our Uban Wild Places project (2010-2012), funded through the National Lottery Access to Nature Programme and Natural England. 


Informed by compelling research that people, especially children, were suffering from 'Nature Deficit Disorder' as a result of a loss of access to nature, we created four new community wildlife gardens in areas of serious deprivation in Islington, supported by an extensive programme of education and outdoor activities to raise the Environmental Literacy of our local communities.

So successful was that project that Islington Council partnered us in the successor project Urban Wild Places (2013-2016), which focussed on connecting the hardest to reach and most deprived families within the borough to their green spaces, and parks. A wealth of research identified in the evaluation of Urban Wild Places and borne out by our own findings highlights the benefits and positive impact on people's health and wellbeing associated with gardens, gardening, being outdoors and accessing nature.

The final development in this continuum addressed the issue that those living in dense social housing estates in Islington were under-represented in the participants of both previous projects. Given that residents of such estates are often the most socially deprived in the borough, through the We Can Grow project (October 2016-March 2020) Octopus Communities has become an integral player in the effective partnership between the voluntary sector and Islington's Homes and Communities and Public Realm departments in the fight against social deprivation and poverty.

We Can Grow has enabled us to meet the outcomes of:

  • Stonger communities, with more active citizens working together to improve identified problems.
  • Improved urban environments, which communities are better able to access and enjoy.
  • Healthier and more active people and communities.

We Can Grow galvanized community action to develop andenhance underused / unloved green spaces on estates through 'pop up' environmental and food growing activities. At the heart of the project has been our 'pop up' Community Plant Nursery, which quickly became established as a place where people could come to actively participate in community growing, especially of food, learn new skills and share in the produce grown. An amazing 585 people participated in workshops (284 of whom were children or young people) and events or regular drop in sessions over the 11 months it was open. In November 2011 it was closed as the space had been earmarked for new building on the estate ... but a new site was quickly sought and secured.

In late 2018 our new Community Plant Nursery was established on the Tufnell Park Estate with an official opening by the Mayor of Islington on December 18th 2018. Since its opening, 343 people, 145 of them children have participated and engaged in activities at the Community Plant Nursery.

As well as offering a place for people of all ages to learn how to grow food, it has offered an opportunity for people to become regular volunteers, to gain skills to equip them to establish and lead social action and community growing in their own communities. Plants have been grown there for transfer to food growing community gardens around the borough. Children and young people especially have participated in learning that has provided them with the skills to make transformations to their own community environments.

Lasting transformations have been made through the establishment of a new wildlife garden at the entrance of Haywards Adventure Playground, a specialist space for children with SEND and through the creation of a new community nature garden on the Highbury Quadrant Estate.