Urban Growing

Bristol Community Food Gardens: Redcatch Community Garden

By Weien Soh

Weien Soh

Weien Soh’s latest Bristol Good Food 2030 story is about Knowle’s Redcatch Community Garden (RCG). Weien met with Kate Swain, one of the founders of RCG, and Lou, Head Gardener, to discuss their ongoing community and urban growing projects.

Transitioning through the midsummer solstice last month, a slight sadness permeates as the light reverses with the days gradually beginning to get darker earlier. While it may seem like most of summer is yet to come, a lot of crops that were planted out in spring are now ready to harvest or reaching their final stages of growth. This colourful array of summer fruit and vegetables ripening in edible gardens across the city reminds us that eating seasonal local produce benefits not only the planet, but our health too.

Seasonal eating helps with diversifying our intake of whole foods that are rich in different nutrients, while teaching us to listen to the innate intelligence of nature’s cycles. The seasons mark the shifting of our surroundings in nature, similarly this theme is threaded through the lives of humans as we honour our own cycles of change and growth. Making small changes to the way we eat and where we buy our food can be meaningful contributions in creating a better food system for everyone.

Last month I covered Bristol Beekeepers to learn more about their training apiary and the work they do in bee conservation, while also gaining insights into bees’ contribution to our food system. For this month’s article, I visited Redcatch Community Garden to have a tour of its productive food garden and its nutritious seasonal produce, which are grown to be accessible and affordable to everyone.

Redcatch Community Garden

Redcatch Community Garden on the Coronation Bank Holiday weekend

The neighborhood’s row of houses opened to an expanse of green grass and trees as I walked into Redcatch Park. Catching the groups of people walking past, I figured they were heading to the Coronation Celebration garden party hosted by Redcatch Community Garden (RCG) which I had also been invited to. The party was in full swing when I arrived, with the buzz of people and the sound of children playing carrying cheerfully through the air. Like the turning of the seasons, the coronation of King Charles II marks a transition into a new era as people celebrated across the Coronation Bank Holiday weekend. By collaborating with the residents of Knowle, RCG brought people together to capture the festive spirit, while also promoting the organisation’s mission to harness community engagement to make impactful changes at a local level.

To find out more about RCG’s vision for a stronger community and more resilient food system, I met with Kate Swain, one of the founders of RCG, and Lou, Head Gardener, to discuss their ongoing community and urban growing projects. Despite the slightly menacing grey clouds, Kate light-heartedly remarked, the turnout has been fantastic as the garden was steadily filling up with people. With afternoon teas and teapot cocktails spread out across tables, along with children delighting in the crafts and games, RCG ensured that the party was community-centric with good food and activities for everyone.

Pointing around the site, she explained that this piece of land used to be a bowling green, which after years of disuse was quite abandoned. In mid-2017 however, a group of locals, including Kate, came together with a vision to transform the neglected green space into an edible garden and community hub. Seeing the immense potential of the project to grow and serve the neighbourhood, Kate courageously left her job so she could pursue RCG commitments full-time.


Now six years later, Kate tells me, RCG employs seventeen members of staff (eight of whom are full-time), including two registered Art Therapists who work on the organisation’s well-being programme. A big part of the vision for RCG founders was to create a safe space surrounded by nature for the community to engage together and grow, so it’s inspiring to hear that their Art Therapy programme, along with Gardening for Well-being sessions, often take place in the Garden, filled with not only fruit and vegetable plants, but beautiful fruit trees, herbaceous borders and wildflowers too.

Having been awarded grants from many organisations, alongside money raised from crowdfunders, RCG has built, erected and refurbished many of the structures on-site throughout the years, like the Canopy, the Nest, the container Kitchen (which used to be in the Bearpit!) and the polytunnels, to support the important work they do and to diversify their sources of revenue. By listening to the community to better understand what people want, Kate tells me, fundraising only makes up around 30-40 percent of revenue for the charity, while the rest is generated through enterprise from the Roots Café, comedy nights, pop-up street food nights, to name a few, alongside sales from their on-site Garden Shop.

RCG garden shop

While RCG has found different ways of generating funds to support their work, the development of RCG’s food programme is centred around the edible garden as their urban growing work makes a big difference in driving change for the local food system. The produce grown in the Garden not only goes to supplying Roots Café and the Garden Shop (which in turn generates income to support ongoing RCG projects), but the organisation also collaborates with Feeding Bristol and Bristol City Council to supply food banks and meals to those who need it most. With the on-site Kitchen, Kate tells me, RCG is supporting the community through the cost-of-living-crisis by providing frozen meals (around 60 per week) and free lunch sessions to locals, while also giving out free school meals each week (kindly paid for by a local philanthropist).

Working closely with residents to find solutions, the productive Garden forms a key part of their initiative to combat food insecurity that sits at the core of social-economic challenges that locals have been facing. By providing healthy foods that are not only locally grown, but grown using organic no-dig principles, RCG ensures that good food is accessible and affordable for everyone in the community. To learn more about the growing project, Lou, Head Gardener, gave me a tour of the Garden to talk me through the edible crops they have planted, while also highlighting the sustainable principles behind RCG’s urban growing work.

Seedlings at RCG

Walking us around the Garden Lou tells me that although RCG is not certified, the entire Garden is maintained using organic principles that are climate (and nature) friendly. Just last year, the organisation was recognised by RHS as Outstanding (as part of the ‘Britain in Bloom’ initiative) for five-star engagement work in encouraging the community to try sustainable gardening. With an emphasis on educational garden sessions for adults and children, RCG empowers people by teaching them skills in sustainable growing, with hands-on learning that brings them closer to their food and nature.

By working with West of England Combined Authority (WECA), Lou tells me more about RCG’s commitment to maintaining diversity and supporting wild pollinators so that their urban growing work can be beneficial to local wildlife and nature too. As a testament to the organisation’s efforts in regenerative and sustainable growing, Lou cheerfully points out the small growing projects around the Garden: the fruit corner, ‘wild’ area, the compost corner, wildflower bedding and three resident honeybee hives. Last year, RCG was awarded the ‘Bee Bold’ award by WECA for their work in taking action to protect pollinators. Yet for Lou, their work here has only just started as RCG has already planned its next steps to install a sensory garden and build a pond to attract wildlife, alongside trying to secure a pollinator bid for a night garden to benefit night pollinators, like moths and bats.

The outdoor raised beds are home to a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers (grown for RCG’s cut flower and wreath-making enterprise), Lou tells me, but a lot of more tender plants from the polytunnels will also be transplanted outdoors once it’s warm enough. With over twenty large raised beds in the Garden, Lou points out the legumes, onions, leeks, potatoes and radishes that are currently growing as I marvelled at the relative size of the growing operation. While RCG has seventeen members of staff, they do rely on volunteers to support the work that they do, Lou notes, they have thirty-plus regular volunteers to help with the 250 volunteer hours that are required each week to upkeep the Garden and site.

'The hotbox' sign - the propagator's power supply comes from fresh horse poo!

Walking us around to the two polytunnels, Lou tells me, one is hotter than the other, which means they can grow a wider variety of vegetables. Entering the first (hotter) polytunnel, Lou showed me their horse manure hotbox, with small aubergine plants on top, that will give off heat (around 30 degrees!) for several months, while the seedlings get established. Along with the aubergines, Lou shows me an astonishing variety of vegetables and herbs, like cucamelons, Romanesco cauliflower, spaghetti squash and loofah plants (that will be turned into natural loofahs for RCG to sell). The second polytunnel contained rows of mixed bitter and sweet-leaved salads that are grown year-round, alongside different varieties of tomatoes and cabbage, some of which would eventually end up in the Kitchen, jarred as condiment and kimchi, to sell in the Garden Shop.

Redcatch Community Garden sign

Having previously worked in the Kitchen and Café too, Lou says, RCG supported her through her journey when she decided to switch career paths from working in mental health to becoming a gardener. Much like Kate’s decision to quit her job to pursue the RCG project, Lou’s commitment to following her passion led her to be promoted to Head Gardener. Speaking about the transitional stages throughout her journey from a volunteer to Head Gardener, Lou encourages everyone, especially young people interested in developing a career in gardening, to embrace change and not be afraid to try things. With the lively Coronation party in the background, the vision for RCG founders to create something better has manifested into a thriving community hub and food garden, where the theme of change and growth are threaded not only through nature’s cycles, but also through those who believe in its potential to transform lives.

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So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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