My professional life was in social research, promoting health and addressing health inequalities with degrees in Psychology and ‘Epidemiology & Social Research’ from the University of Manchester. Living and working in the inner city, involved in community activities and needing to feel close to nature brought me to forest gardening around the turn of the century. I worked on whole systems for health, healthy cities, healthy ageing, healthier eating, physical activity and interfaces between health and environment eg ‘Local Agenda 21’ and key innovations such as Healthy Living Networks and ‘Exercise on Referral’/social prescribing. I believe forest gardens demonstrate and explore the potential of new ecosystems for food security, climate resilience, closer relationships with nature, and greater health and wellbeing. I voluntarily work as: Deputy chair and a lead forest gardener of the ‘Friends of Birchfields Park’; a BeeWalk, Tree/Nature Walk leader & Friends of the Earth nature activist. I am also involved in Manchester Permaculture Network & Creative Rusholme.
Philippe Grebert (Treasurer)
Through questioning my way of life and my education I discovered permaculture and later forest gardening. Trained as an engineer I am particularly interested in systems and how things and people interact with one another. Forest gardens are an opportunity to challenge the way we think of nature and how we attempt to domesticate it to serve our needs. They also are an ideal place for personal growth as we develop more coherent communities. I do not believe there is one magical solution to solve modern issues like the climate crisis and the soil fertility depletion, but forest gardens certainly are in my view a part of the solution to produce food we can be proud of. It is time we treated ourselves and nature as part of one single coherent system.
I discovered Forest Gardening during my PDC on a reforestation project in 2012 and have been obsessed ever since. I am quite sure it is one of the keys to us as a race taking our place as stewards within a sustainable socioecological system. My background is in creativity, community empowerment and climate action. I have created and supported the creation of numerous initiatives tackling social and ecological challenges.
I come to forest gardens through a journey which some years ago took me to the Oxford Real Farming Conference. This journey started with an enquiry around use of nature and gardening specifically to support each person’s greater potential for development and has evolved into how we can best enhance personal well-being. The IPCC report brings into sharp focus and urgency the importance of both preserving and restoring ecosystems. I believe forest gardens are very appropriate ways to realise both these needs and am increasingly committed to help make this happen. My day job is as a water and sanitation engineer working internationally on disaster strategy, evaluation and response. Until recently I was a trustee of Bridewell Organic gardens, a horticultural mental health recovery charity.
Standing in a forest garden in Devon on a May afternoon in 2015 (my first forest garden training) my eureka moment was: this is how we need to be eating into the future. Though most of the garden around me was in shade, it was bursting with life and colour. It also struck me if there were ever spaces where we could recast our relationship with Nature, these spaces were a pretty good answer. In December 2016 I brought together educators, ecologists, systems thinking academics, youth workers and of course forest gardeners – and NFGS was born. My professional work is the leadership of change, and I take a ‘living systems’ approach to this work. I’m often travelling but home is Bath, and where my own forest garden is putting down its young roots.