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Research Case studies

Back to Front: Front Gardens that Look and Taste Better


Emma Oldroyd, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, led the Back to Front manual project working closely with partners from NHS Leeds and Leeds City Council, together with local people and community groups. Responding to local people’s needs, the manual aims to inspire growing by starting off small, saving money and space and by using local resources. It is intended for individuals, community organisations and schools, encouraging them to grow fruit and vegetables in their front gardens instead of paving over them.

The idea for Back to Front came from Roxana Summers, BME Health Improvement Specialist for the Diversity, Inclusion and Vulnerable Groups Team at NHS Leeds. A flourishing elder tree in a front garden in Bradford led her to wonder why more people didn’t use their front gardens for food growing, especially in areas of back-to-back housing where there is no back or side space. She set up the Back to Front community organisation to promote food growing in front gardens. Its first home was in Inner North East Leeds, beginning with a survey of more than 350 residents conducted by NHS Leeds and BTCV Leeds to explore their attitudes to growing and using their front gardens particularly for growing food.

Following this, the Local Government Association (formerly IDEA) funded The Landscape Group at our University to develop The Back to Front manual in support of residents and community groups. The partnership approach adopted in delivering the manual has allowed the sharing of resources and research resulting in a rich project outcome.

As part of the development of the manual, three demonstration gardens were designed and built in summer 2010 by our Landscape Architecture and Garden Design students, working with local residents from Harehills and Chapeltown and led by Emma Oldroyd. The experience of designing and making the gardens informed the manual development and provided a good example of how design action can inform research. The idea that gardens had to be made principally from local resources was a direct outcome of this stage in the project and informed further student work to develop a series of space and money saving planters that could be built from materials that are often thrown away in the local area. Students thoroughly enjoyed being involved and having the chance to work on a live project in a real place.

The process of making the manual has been recorded on the Back to Front website. Throughout the project, the developing ideas were presented at community events and talks, and through these activities a network of project contacts was developed and a strong link created with Shine, a community centre in Harehills. Feedback from residents suggested that the perception of attractiveness is closely associated with how established plants are within the planters and gardens. Positively, local residents felt that the demonstration gardens all made the neighbourhood look and feel better.

Back to Front aims to encourage front garden growing. An example of how communities can work together to achieve this goal can be found in Beeston, Leeds - where 35 households have begun to do just that with support from Back to Front and NHS Leeds.

Aims for the future

In September 2011 Back to Front received 12 months funding from Jimbo’s Fund in Leeds to employ a part-time project worker to take the idea and organisation into its next phase. This includes developing a membership base, organising and delivering training, making contact with local communities, updating the website and writing the newsletter. The postholder will also help 200 households to use the manual to develop their front garden into a food growing space and encourage another 200 to get involved in Back to Front.

There has been much interest in this project from local housing associations such as Connect Housing, Latch and Leeds Tenant’s Federation and there is potential to build on this interest in the future. There is a need for more additional impact evaluation work of both the manual and the gardens that it inspires.

The long term aim for Back to Front is to encourage more and more people to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs their front gardens. Back to Front believes that this will create healthier and happier neighbourhoods and lifestyles for everyone. Leeds City Council believes the project will help to make Leeds a greener, more sustainable city.

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