By Roz Hanna
I’m in East London to interview Nomadic Jim. Arriving early, I stop at Joe’s Kid for a coffee and somewhere to charge my phone. I end up having the best breakfast for a long time and a great chat with Daniella Orsi, the owner, whose Italian dad taught her everything she knows about hospitality. He taught her well and as we chat it turns out she has heard about Jim and his amazing ‘space’.
Nomadic Jim is the eco-warrior who persuaded London property developers Londonewcastle to let him use land waiting for development as a ‘meanwhile space’. Daniella tells me she has heard people talking about it: locals growing their own veg and using the space to stage community-based events from Lambada to films and debates; the word is that you will find Somalis, Bangladeshis alongside Brits, Moroccans and Aussies, comparing produce and swapping recipes. Others just come with their children to enjoy the upcycled sculptures and play areas or to just sit and enjoy the unique environment within stepping distance of Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market.
I finish my coffee and make my way to Alan Gardens, just off Pedley Street, E1. The desolate urban landscape has been transformed: an old fishing boat is now a children’s play area; seating areas are made from recycled crates and boxes; a bright green truck provides refreshments form the ‘Roving Café’ and there is even a giant chess board. But the big surprise is the rows of fruit and vegetables growing in the converted bathtubs and boxes which comprise the 100 or so small allotments.
Nomadic Community Gardens
Known as the Nomadic Community Gardens, it is the inspiration of James Wheale, aka ‘Nomadic Jim’, whose passion and commitment to a better society persuaded Londonewcastle founder and COO Rob Soning to hand over the development space to create a multi-functioning ‘meanwhile space’.
Soning has an impeccable track record developing high-end luxury residential developments but is also committed to arts and community projects and is the creator of Londonewcastle Arts Programme and Project Space.
Soning frequently hosts art shows at the Londonewcastle Project Space in Shoreditch, showcasing upcoming artists such as Daniel Sachon, (Disruptive Innovation 10-17 Dec). So when Jim approached him with a compelling proposal but no actual experience, Rob had the vision to give it a go. The proviso is that it is temporary.
When the company is ready to build, Jim and the community will have to move on. Jim is already approaching other developers, while Londonewcastle continues to find suitable ‘meanwhile spaces’ within their portfolio.
“The gardens are essentially a multi-functioning community space designed to meet the needs of local residents in various ways,” Jim explains. “There are 100 allotment spaces, offered for free, and individually managed by the local community.
This is the heart of the space, helping locals cope with increasing food prices, but also leading to a sense of empowerment people feel growing their own vegetables.” The spaces are used by the mixed nationalities who live in the area – Somalis, Bangladeshis, Australians, Moroccans, Indians, Pakistanis and British.
Food Production, Events and Public Park
‘The universal language of food production brings the people together as they help each other and even swap recipes, and it has given new purpose to people who may otherwise have been isolated in the community,” says Jim.
“Then there is an events space. During the summer we hosted networking events, street art paint jams, a Lambada meet-up and, most recently, the Asian Dub Foundation shot their video here.’ ”
Jim says the events help the community to express their own interests and the money raised goes towards providing the cost of soil and water rates incurred by the garden.
Finally, the space is a public access park, an urban oasis where anyone can come and enjoy the scenery and pull up a piece of pallet furniture and get away from the buzz and crush of the streets. This space is open to all and contains a number of sculptures, including a 7 metre fishing boat being converted into a children’s playground, a roving cafe and the caravan that serves up healthy treats and snacks.
Jim tells me that “once the site is fully functioning we want to have a regular up-cycling workshops teaching people DIY skills and letting them practise on pallets making their own furniture. We have come so far in four months and the space is testament to the local need for spaces like this. We couldn’t have got so much done without the involvement and dedication of the people who use it.”
About Nomadic Jim
It is a remarkable feat and a huge achievement for Nomadic Jim who left school at 16, worked in construction, then went travelling which awakened his social and political conscience. He came back and studied Humanities at Birmingham University, paying his way by working evenings as a set builder and designer in the theatre.
“Everything I went through has been of use in creating and leading this project. The nomadic concept means we will move when this site is ready for development. We aim to persuade other developers and Councils to allow other spaces to be used in the same way.
Everything we build is modular and can be replicated anywhere. We hope other far-sighted developers will, like Londonewcastle, leap on board. It would be a good part of any company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Portfolio, as well as helping them to smooth relations with local councils.
‘The community benefits are obvious: a park space available to all, the health-benefits of growing your own fresh vegetables, not to mention the economic savings. And it’s a good showcase for the nomadic ethos, cultivating a modern sense of self-expression alongside a sense of non-attachment.”
New ways of living
Nomadic Jim maintains his philosophy rings true with a new generation who are embracing new ways of living. ‘They are in tune with the ‘sharing community’ ethos of Air BnB and have seen the failure of both socialism and extreme capitalism . The use of these shared spaces illustrates a shift into a hybrid era and enough people are thinking this way now for this to work at both ends of society. Stressed office workers come here to relax as much as Bengali housewives – to find purpose and a way to connect to their local community.” Jim explains
Jim’s main aim is to encourage other developers to consider creating meanwhile spaces. “All credit to Londonewcastle for making this possible. Come on other developers, let’s see what you can do! I hope there is a future working with developers, protecting their assets during the planning process, and creating something beautiful for the community in the meantime.”
Nomadic Gardens on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nomadiccommunitygardens
Joe’s Kid on Twitter: @Joes_kid
Londonewcastle Arts Programme: http://londonewcastle.com/arts-programme/
Londonewcastle Project Space: http://londonewcastle.com/arts-programme/venues-and-initiatives/londonewcastle-project-space/
Daniel Sachon, Disruptive Innovation: http://londonewcastle.com/arts-programme/events/2015-12-10/disruptive-innovation/