Urban Growing

Grow Wilder’s Grow Leader programme 

By Charlotte Ball

Read Bristol Food Network volunteer Charlotte Ball’s story of personal growth and environmental stewardship as she shares her journey through the Grow Leader programme at Grow Wilder. Find out how to get involved.

I used to sit at my desk, gazing outside at the tree opposite my window and the magpies nesting in it. I found myself more fascinated by what was happening with them than the work on my computer. I needed a change, I wanted to spend more time outdoors, and I had a growing anxiety about climate change and my feelings of impotence around doing anything. This prompted me to enrol in Grow Wilder’s Grow Leader programme last autumn. 

The Grow Leader programme is an eight-week course delivered by soil health, ecology, volunteer management, and food-growing experts. Everyone who taught the course was encouraging and passionate about their subject. The days went so quickly. The course is delivered at the inspiring Grow Wilder space, easily accessible from Bristol City Centre.  

I had never visited Grow Wilder before beginning the course and I wish I had been visiting more before. The food growing hub is six acres of space devoted to nature recovery by ‘growing wilder food, growing wilder gardens and growing wilder people’. The site has a variety of habitats, including two ponds, a forest garden, polytunnels and even a resident badger sett, and is chemical-free to help with soil quality. Each week we were encouraged to look at the site with a slightly different eye – what could the soil tell us, how was it optimised for different creatures, how was it set out to help with crop yields? Each week felt like adding another layer of understanding that has stayed with me in looking at other wild spaces. 

One of the best parts of the programme was the other participants. My cohort included people working on inspiring community projects, people looking to develop practical growing skills, and those like me who were looking to make a career change. Everyone brought their full selves to the course, and the discussions, book recommendations, and ideas shared helped to develop my interests. The space held by the group felt incredibly safe. We were able to share fears about ecological collapse and climate change but left the days with hope that others cared as much as we did. A lot of the exercises we did were incredibly therapeutic and I still use them now when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  

Having this one day a week away from my desk for two months was exactly what I needed to feel reinspired and gain the confidence to change career direction, and I am now hoping to undertake a master’s in sustainability. I even took back some of the work we did around motivating and inspiring individuals into my tech job. I now have an allotment, have attended Bristol Seed Swap, and am looking forward to volunteering at some of the other amazing growing spaces Bristol has. 

The Grow Leader course is running three times in 2024 with the next starting on Friday 7 June. If you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the planet and you’d like to find a supportive community, learn practical food growing, project and volunteer management skills, and get outdoors this course is for you.  

Grow Wilder is an extremely special location, and if the course is not for you, you can support it in other ways. You can buy plants, visit their café on the weekend, or attend one of the other events they run throughout the year.  

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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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