This new gardening course inspires us to connect to our communities through nature

Gardening and activism were not the first (or, only) calling cards for the former footballer Tayshan Hayden-Smith. But, despite only discovering his passion after already establishing a career in football, he has thrown himself into it with all of the gusto of someone who was destined to change communities through horticulture. As a child, his mother would use elements of nature – the colour of the sunset, or the grain of bark on a tree – as a method of distraction when her four children were misbehaving. When he talks about nature now, his words are blanketed in appreciation of her.

Tayshan grew up in the west London neighbourhood of Ladbroke Grove, in a council block which was joined to Grenfell Tower. ‘It was part of my everyday experience – whether I was walking through, under or around it, or playing football on the pitch next to it, it was a constant presence to me’, he says. In 2017, when a tragic fire took hold of the building, which took over 60 hours to extinguish and resulted in the deaths of 72 people, everything changed for Tayshan. ‘These people were my friends and neighbours. Those who didn’t die still live with the traumas of the fire and losing people’, he says. He left Austria, where he had been playing professional football, and now, everything he does – whether gardening, working with the community on creating healing spaces, activism or TV presenting – ‘is with justice for Grenfell in mind. I want to create joyful spaces for those who are still in the community’.

It’s a community which is home to some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people in the city, and Tayshan says, no longer serves the people who live in the poorer areas: ‘it’s about reclaiming it. I want to invite people to understand how the community has come to be and how they can play a part in where it’s going’.

‘Growing up, the focus was on survival’, he says. ‘I want it to be about thriving. Between the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and the fire at Grenfell, the wealth disparity, both locally and nationwide, is thrown into light’.