From a common love of beetroot, a small hopeful spark

Game Changers: A Space to Grow matches garden owners with people who would love to grow food

Catriona Kenny has taken on an unusual matchmaker role. Recently she watched two potential garden partners meet for the first time. One was a newly bereaved older man, the other an enthusiastic woman “who just loves growing food”. As the two people chatted they hit on the common love of beetroot, a vegetable the man used to grow. Kenny watched as he began to enthuse about how easy it had been to grow beetroot. It felt like a small hopeful spark taking hold.

She set up A Space to Grow, with Scott Bryan last year. The website matches garden owners with people who do not have gardens but would love to grow some food.

The idea grew out of Connecting Cabra, an impressive local group looking at energy, biodiversity and active transport in the north Dublin area. One recurring theme was lack of access to green space. Brian, a member of the group “thought the programme through in a really thorough way,” Kenny says. Scott created the website, “and we were fairly overwhelmed by the response,” from people who loved gardening but didn’t have a garden and from people who are not using their space and would be delighted to welcome someone else to bring a spade and get stuck in.

They contacted Friends of the Elderly to ask them about best safeguarding practice and thanks to pilot funding from The Community Foundation for Ireland a retired carpenter in the Cabra Men’s Shed has made beautiful raised beds for 10 pilot projects. All of them will be in front gardens, which Kenny loves, because it makes the project highly visible and has the practical benefit of the grower being able to come and go without walking through the owner’s house.


After being geographically matched so the potential grower and garden owner do not live too far apart a pairing meeting in a cafe is hosted by Kenny or Bryan. Then the garden owners and budding growers each get a booklet which explains the expectations of both parties. Earlier this month they held a potato planting workshop and a GIY grow box and online course are given free to the growers to get them off to a good start.

The pilot project could be rolled out across Ireland “It isn’t just about the growing of the food it’s about the connections people make, neighbours communicating with each other,” says Kenny. It has an intergenerational aspect and they will be assessing the effects on the mental health of participants. “We are in a transactional world,” she says, “but with this project both parties want to feel they’re helping another person. People are so glad when they can do that.”

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests