Like many Botanic Gardens around the world, Cambridge University Botanic Garden is developing its social role by working closely with local people and communities on issues of social and environmental importance.
We have a Learning Officer who works with Families and Communities to ensure that the Garden is enjoyed by people from all parts of our community including those who might find it difficult to visit for financial reasons or because of a disability.
To support these different groups the Learning Department is currently involved with several long-term community projects.
Community Gardening Club
Every Tuesday we load up our Botanic Bike with plants and tools and head out into Cambridge to help run a Community Gardening Club. This takes place at Hanover and Princess Court, two blocks of flats located less than 500m from the Botanic Garden.
In the time the Club has been running we have taken cuttings, created herb beds, helped with vegetable growing, planted hanging baskets, developed the flower beds and planted spring bulbs. We record the activities of our gardening club in a weekly blog. To find out more about this project visit our Project Dirt blog
Tours for vulnerable adults
Together with the Community Officer for Newtown, we offer monthly guided tours for a community group for vulnerable adults. These walks have been running now for over 4 years and in this time the group have got to know the plants and the Garden very well. Each month is spent visiting different plants and places of interest, enjoying being outside and making new friendships.
Cambridge Young Carers
Our work with the Cambridge Young Carers Project started in 2011 when, thanks to the generous support of graphic design company Cantellday and Cambridge University Press, we were able to invite children from the Cambridge Young Carers project to take part in workshops at the Botanic Garden and create their own story book.
Working with artist Alex Hirtzel and storyteller, Marion Leeper the children came up with the story of the Magic Brick Tree, a tale about a fantasy kingdom inside the Garden’s unusual bricked-up pear tree. The children created the characters, plot and artwork which was then converted into a real book by the people at Cantellday and Cambridge University Press. We had a fantastic book-signing party for all the children and the book is now available to buy from the Botanic Garden shop and online by clicking on the link on the left.
Since making the Magic Brick Tree book we continue to work with the Cambridge Young Carers every year, providing one-off workshops where the children can connect with nature, learn new skills and spend some time doing something different to their normal caring role.
Our 2014 workshop, ‘Self-portraits’ was done in collaboration with several of the other university museums. The group visited the collections at the Botanic Garden, Kettle’s Yard, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Museum of Zoology and worked with artist Kim Noce to create an animated film about the different collections.
Blind and partially sighted visitors
For some people who are blind or partially sighted, getting out to a Botanic Garden and enjoying the plants can be challenging. To assist such people, the Garden offers free tours focusing on the smells, textures and shapes of the plants for people who are blind or partially sighted. These tours are run together with Cam Sight and take place once a month, usually on the first Friday and have been running for more than seven years.
The tours are planned and led by our volunteer Garden Guides who do a wonderful job of tracking down the most interesting plants and making them accessible for everybody on the tour. Each month our guides will take the group to different plants based on what’s currently at its best and will describe the plant before encouraging everyone to examine it for themselves using touch, smell and sight, depending on people’s individual abilities and interests.
The group always welcomes new members so if you or somebody you know suffers from loss of vision and is interested in coming along please contact Garden Enquiries on 01223 336 265 to find out more about how to join. Carers and registered guidedogs are welcome and for people coming on their own, additional Cam Sight volunteers can assist with guiding.
Rowan Humberstone is a social enterprise charity that supports learning-disabled people. Students at Rowan work alongside skilled art tutors to produce high-quality and original works of art. We have commissioned a range of very special, top secret artworks by Rowan Students which you can find in the new pinetum if you look closely! Rowan also made the wonderful sign for the Schools’ Garden.
Residential care homes
Residents in local care homes often struggle to get outdoors and so we do our best to make the Garden accessible by bringing the plants to them. We currently are working with two local care homes for this project, taking them beautiful plants each season and running short workshops.
Past sessions have included looking at autumn leaves before making nature prints and taking inspiration from orchids to make paper flowers. Many of the residents have cared for and enjoyed plants in their past and so the plants from the Botanic Garden help to bring back happy memories.