When weeds started taking over the pop-up allotments on the West Ken estate as locked-down residents were unable to tend their plots, Arthur James acted.
He set about keeping everybody’s beds tidy... and now his kind-hearted volunteering has led to the bestowing of a title, with H&F Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, declaring him his Honorary Horticulture Adviser!
Arthur, who has learning disabilities and autism, has kept all 15 raised beds (locally nicknamed ‘The Plotments’) weed-free, and even bought grass seed at Poundland to create a new lawn area beside them.
He paid, from his own pocket, for seedling plants to add flowers and make the space more inviting. He improved the seating to create a relaxing space for quiet reflection – an ideal stress-reducer for those seriously affected by the pandemic.
“Ever since the lockdown I’ve been giving it a bit of a tidy-up. It was covered in weeds because the 10 people who used to go regularly can’t get down there very often,” said Arthur. “I just did what I could to make it look more beautiful.”
Then he cut out, sewed and created new bunting to replace the original faded plastic flags, adding a further splash of colour. “We cut out makeshift triangles of cotton, and hung them out on streamers,” said Arthur.
Cllr Cowan wrote: “All of this has brought so much pleasure to everyone; thank you for doing these beautiful things for our community,” wrote the council leader, in a thank-you letter on behalf of residents.
Arthur, 25, who lives in a North End Road flat with aunt Sally Taylor, an NHS worker, was praised for channelling his ‘admirable commitment, creativity, knowledge and hard work into this project’.
Added Cllr Cowan: “Your work tending other people’s allotments is inspirational; an indication of the type of kindness that exemplifies the best in us.”
Until COVID-19 struck, Arthur was working three days a week as a helper with riding for the disabled. That ended with lockdown, so he switched his time to tending the raised beds on the estate between North End Road and Lillie Road.
With the regular gardeners unable to leave their flats, he weeds the raised beds twice a day, so they will be ready for their owners’ return.
“There are cauliflowers, broad beans, thyme, strawberries… and hopefully everyone will have something to look forward to seeing again when they are able to get back,” said Arthur.
Mum Sally said: “Arthur was cock-a-hoop at getting the letter.”
Arthur spent three years training to work with horses at the Fortune College in the New Forest, a specialist facility helping young people with learning disabilities develop self-confidence and skills.
He is also a keen singer, having sung with a London musical choir and the choir at St Andrew’s, Greyhound Road, north Fulham.
When he goes down to the ‘plotments’, Arthur takes his Bluetooth with him, and sings as he weeds.
“Since Covid, he’s got into growing,” said Sally. “He feels very motivated with that little garden. Even before Covid he was helping people do their watering.”
Arthur admits to taking some pride in his new unofficial designation. “It’s a terrific title,” said the Honorary Horticulture Adviser to the Leader of the Council. “It’s a privilege, really.”
He said that he would always be delighted to give Cllr Cowan advice on weeding and planting… “and not just him! I’m happy to help members of other communities around here.”
Arthur said that he was looking forward to an easing of lockdown restrictions at the Park Lane Stables in Richmond borough, where he works, but which is currently closed because of the pandemic.
“It’s funded by the Riding for the Disabled Association, and I miss the horses; it’s one of my hobbies. When you’re near horses it gives you a bit of relief from busy life. It’s an opportunity to ride all your thoughts away.”
Until he returns to work at the stables, he’ll have his hands full battling the weeds of west London on behalf of the gardeners who are having to remain socially isolated in nearby flats.
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