Downton’s Jim Carter backs UK’s first policy to transform wasteland into spaces for urban children to learn horticulture and calls for gardening on national curriculum

Launched by Hounslow Council, Grow for the Future is Britain’s first-ever policy to repurpose wasteland into spaces for urban children to learn about sustainability and has won Govt and GLA backing.

Published: Friday, 29th September 2023

Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter, Cllr Lambert and Cllr Salman Shaheen, Cabinet Member for Recreation, Public Spaces & Parking with children

Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter OBE today backed Hounslow Council’s trailblazing new programme – Grow for the Future – a first-of-its-kind policy in the UK to turn wasteland across the London borough into new allotments, community gardens and orchards to grow food in a cost-of-living crisis and pair them with local schools to teach urban children about healthy living, sustainability and biodiversity. Carter called on councils across the country to follow Hounslow’s example so kids can get more green time and less screen time following the pandemic.

Hounslow’s new policy has won backing from the government and the Greater London Authority, with £165,000 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), but Carter wants to go further and see the government place gardening and horticulture on the national curriculum because of the wealth of mental and physical health benefits they bring.

The Emmy-nominated actor – who is patron of Greenfingers, a charity creating magical gardens for children’s hospices, alongside his wife Imelda Staunton – recently gave evidence to the House of Lords Horticulture Select Committee arguing gardening should be taught in schools to get children outside where they can get their hands dirty.

However, with limited spaces for state schools in often deprived urban areas to get kids gardening, Carter has backed Hounslow Council’s pioneering Grow for the Future policy to transform unused and unloved land into spaces for food growing and, for the first time ever in the UK, pair sites with a local school so children can learn about where their food comes from, the importance of good nutrition, and how to live healthy lives. The food grown by the schools can be donated to support children and their families who are going hungry in the cost-of-living crisis.

Jim Carter said:

“I am delighted to add my wholehearted support to Hounslow Council’s Grow for the Future initiative. The brilliance of this project lies in its simplicity. Take unused wasteland and utilise it for the benefit of young people who have little or no access to outside space. 

“Get outside. Turn off the screen. Nurture plants. Grow food.

“I am a keen advocate of gardening, with its self-evident physical and mental health benefits, being admitted on to the national curriculum and Grow for the Future is a wonderful stepping stone towards achieving this aim.

“I urge all local councils to take a lead from Hounslow and to introduce similar initiatives in their own boroughs. This is an idea whose time has come. Grow for the Future.”


Cllr Salman Shaheen, Cabinet Member for Recreation, Public Spaces & Parking at Hounslow Council, said: 

“I stand firmly behind Jim Carter’s call for gardening and horticulture to be placed on the national curriculum. But for this important vision to be realised, schools need the space to allow kids to learn and grow amongst nature. It’s vital that this is an opportunity not reserved for the few, but enjoyed by all. So it’s up to us, on Britain’s councils, to give children, especially those from state schools in often deprived urban environments, the green space they need.

“We are taking wasteland that has lain empty for years and putting it to use equipping our children with vital life skills and educating them on biodiversity and sustainability, while supporting their mental and physical health in the wake of the pandemic.

“It is fantastic that Jim Carter supports this unique new programme. I hope other councils across the country will be inspired to take unused land and open it up as an educational resource so that we can see gardening and horticulture on the curriculum where they belong.”

Hounslow Council plans to bring online four new sites per year. The initial phase of Grow for the Future is working with up to 27 acres of unused council-owned land, but subsequent phases will assess private wasteland that could be leased or purchased by the council and opened up to the public and schools as community growing and educational spaces.

Grow for the Future’s first orchard project is already underway, transforming an underused, empty space in Feltham, where a wildflower meadow has already been seeded and where apple, pear and cherry trees, and raspberry and blackberry bushes will be planted in the upcoming season. Local school children are collaborating with the activities including growing sunflowers for the new site. The second orchard project will open up a neglected Cranford space currently targeted by fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour where new fruit trees and bushes will be planted. Both sites are expected to be in bloom for next spring. A third site will see new allotments brought to Hatton.

The council will also work with other charities and educational organisations, such as those providing life skills to adults with additional needs, to expand the educational value of Grow for the Future beyond schools, and to help teachers instruct kids on cultivating the land.

Hounslow Council has also given 38 schools and 25 nurseries across the borough free fruit trees to plant on their grounds as part of its drive to plant 20,000 new trees by 2026.

  • The UKSPF is part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda, providing funding for local investment across the country and is supported in the capital by the Greater London Authority (GLA). The funds will help Hounslow Council get the first sites identified as part of Grow for the Future off the ground, proving the concept, before the programme is expanded more widely.

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