Since 2016 I’ve been helping Unaccompanied Young Asylum Seekers from Oxford Spires Academy to enjoy learning in the community garden just along the road from their school.  I work with the teachers and young people on the Academy’s ‘First Steps’ programme to use Barracks Lane Community Garden as place of learning and enjoyment, different to the more formal classroom settings at school.


Many of the young people on the First Steps course have had their education interrupted by the circumstances that caused them to become refugees and asylum seekers in the first place. Regular schooling is often yet another unfamiliar aspect of life in Oxford that they need to adjust to, and having a safe outdoor space in which to learn a little bit about plants and wildlife in the local community makes a change from the classroom for these young teenagers. Many of them come from farming or rural backgrounds, and I am always struck by the enthusiasm with which they recognise familiar fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and plants. They may not know their English or botanical names, but they can tell us their names in their own languages, and how the herbs and fruits are used in their own cultures and cuisines.

This Autumn 2017 term we have been planting broad beans and garlic for harvesting next year, and looking at the students’ favourite foods using these ingredients. We’ve planted bulbs for the Spring, and made feeders for wild birds. We’ve looked at all the different places in the garden where wildlife can shelter, and the different foods for birds and insects. All simple activities, but providing fun and enjoyment outdoors, even in the snow.

Next year we hope to get some funding to expand the programme, and secure its future, so that these young people new to life in Oxford and the UK can continue to enjoy and learn from the safe pace our garden provides.

A short interview for the Garden Design Journal about the work in 2016 can be found here.

More information about Barracks Lane Community Garden.