Grow2Know emerged from a community gardening project after the Grenfell Tower fire. Its mission is to create a green legacy for the North Kensington community and for young people everywhere

Words Libby Norman

The impact of the Grenfell Tower fire will be felt for generations to come, but in all the grief and anger that surrounds the events of June 2017, there are stories of hope and community resilience. Grow2Know is one among them, and it grew from a simple need to do something positive in the aftermath of the fire.

Grow2Know Co-founder Tayshan Hayden-Smith can still clearly describe what life felt like in the days and weeks after the fire. “I had been living beneath Grenfell Tower all my life – I have many memories around it growing up. After the fire the community went into shock. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves,” he says.

Growing strength – Grow2Know and the Grenfell Tower communi
The Grow2Know team and supporters have created an oasis at Morley College

Inevitably, with the national and international press descending in the immediate aftermath, there was confusion. “You have the community and then you have the whole world,” says Hayden-Smith. He says many in the community turned to art as a means of processing raw emotions, with projects offered locally – including at the Maxilla (Maxilla Hall Social Club). He tried it himself with his son and nephew but it wasn’t the right fit.

Then something unexpected happened. “We saw this barren, neglected patch of land and we just decided that was something we were drawn towards.” Tending it and improving it began as the smallest of actions. Hayden-Smith says: “I wouldn’t even call it a decision. It wasn’t as if we sat down and decided: ‘let’s do up this space’. We just went in there and thought ‘oh, this feels good’ – it was our art”.

From there, in an organic process, this small patch of common ground morphed into an informal community project. Local plant shops and nurseries donated plants and the local community started to join in. It was, says Hayden-Smith, a lovely moment during an adverse time to realise what was happening. “Residents and community members would either come past and share a smile or share a conversation and it just brought light to a lot of people’s day. Then you would get some people that would offer their time. They would jump in for five minutes and that would turn into ten, and then all of a sudden they were spending the day with you in this space.”

“You can link anything in life to horticulture so why is it not at the forefront of our education?”

What was also life-affirming was the wide range of people who started to join in. “There were completely different backgrounds and demographics,” says Hayden-Smith. He describes the garden as being without barriers, with the majority of helpers being quite young – late teens and twenties initially. Then some community elders got involved, also younger children when the project spread to an area behind the Maxilla. “Every week there would be a different group of people.”

Morley College
This has been the most organic of community initiatives, with support from all ages and walks of life

There was no formal structure or overarching master plan to these activities – and Hayden-Smith says this made for a conflict-free zone, with a shared activity that pulled down natural barriers between strangers and age groups. “One thing about gardens is that it’s hard to have conflict in that space – when you plant a plant, what can you argue about!”

If the project to beautify the spaces close to Grenfell Tower brought positivity to people’s lives in the aftermath of the fire, it also sparked something stronger – the desire to build on what they had already created. Grow2Know was established in 2020 as a means of building a more permanent legacy in order to honour those lost at Grenfell. “It’s important that people remember what Grow2Know grew from – the 72 people we lost that night in June 2017,” says Hayden-Smith.

Launched as a non-profit, its board of directors comprises Hayden-Smith, with horticultural might from garden designer and TV presenter Danny Clarke (AKA The Black Gardener) and agriculturist and chef Ali Yellop. Advisors include the renowned and nine times Chelsea Gold winning garden designer Cleve West. The plan is to green up areas of the city, but the brief is far wider.

Grow2Know believe that they can use gardening as a platform to enable communities and their young people to thrive. The team also want to promote horticulture – showing its possibilities to the community and encouraging them to have a relationship with plant and produce growing and the land itself. Hayden-Smith says that first lockdown has profoundly changed our relationship to green spaces, but it taps into a host of existing issues – from food security and green infrastructure to a better environment to foster mental and physical health. “You can link anything in life to horticulture so why is it not at the forefront of our education? Why is it not at the forefront of our conversation when we talk about our environment?”

Morley Heart
Carrie Reichardt’s wonderful mosaic-dressed wall at Morley Heart Gardens

Projects so far include a small garden at Morley College, a local further education provider. It was built with “the smallest budget” and incorporated a tree planted earlier in honour of Grenfell Tower victims. The brief was to create a space that felt more like a memorial garden, but also a place to relax and socialise or contemplate in the sunshine. Despite the small budget Morley Heart Gardens is now transformed into a welcoming retreat with a permanent reminder of its purpose via artist Carrie Reichardt’s stunning mosaic-dressed wall.

The next and much bigger plan is to create a garden for Chelsea Flower Show – sponsorship permitting. It will be called the Mangrove Garden, in honour of the Mangrove Nine – local heroes who mounted a landmark court challenge against the police in 1970 that highlighted racial injustice. Through the garden the team at Grow2Know hope to bring resources back to the local community and also educate young people about an important Black history and civil rights milestone for London and the UK.  

A Grow Know
Grow2Know believe gardening should be accessible to all young people

More than that, they would like to open up the possibilities of gardening to young people from all backgrounds and all environments. “If children see people who look like them doing something amazing, then hopefully they will take some inspiration from that,” says Hayden-Smith. “We need to educate our young people so that they can come up with solutions to the problems we’re facing, and also come at things from a more creative standpoint. Greening up London is very much part of that – if we can do it here, where it’s so built up, we can do it anywhere.”

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Further reading: The importance of green spaces in schools