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How Leaves Breathe started

By January 5, 2024January 8th, 2024No Comments

How Leaves Breathe started


In short, Leaves Breathe started off as a gardening group which kept snowballing in size.

We loved the excitement of custodianship of looking after our own site. In time, we came to help other communities take ownership and enjoyment from their own green sites.

Below, we’ve included a fuller version of the story to show other community groups what we’ve learned along the way.

We began like many of the community groups we help today – a small community gardening group.

Our founder Matt Wilcock moved to a new city with very poor timing. He moved in February 2020, just as the COVID-19 lockdowns were to be announced. On the first day of lockdown, Matt went for a soul-searching run. Then he got lost and stumbled upon a neglected park. Below is his account of running the community gardening group which formed the foundation of Leaves Breathe:

“I got lost on my run in a park, in the middle of Hull. I found a statue, posing grumpily in Rodin’s Thinker pose. It had fishing boots on. By the statue’s feet was a barely readable plaque, attributed to St Peter. (St. Peter was a fisherman. With Hull’s fishing heritage, this all checked out.)

All around St Peter litter, bags of it, needles too. The paths were covered in grass. And you could not but notice: the statue had no nose.

There was something about the strangeness of this park and the forlornness of the statue that chimed with the feeling of the time. Being completely isolated in a new city gave the lockdown a dreamlike quality among all the misery. The absurdity of a nose-less statue in a lost, and seemingly very secret garden had an appeal. I felt immediately pulled in to want to return, to explore further, to learn more.

Having been luckily furloughed but nobody to meet and nothing to do, I called my local councillor to ask for a litter picker.ย  Then day-in, day-out I started picking litter and filling black sacks.

Passers by would talk to me, asking if I was on compulsory community service or why I was doing it. I simply was. I filled one black bag, then another, and so on.

One of the passers-by, Bill, said he’d always wanted to get stuck into his local community or do some community service or volunteering. So I asked him to help.

Corporate Volunteer Gardening Day - Hull, Thinkers Corner

From that moment, a solo-endeavour became a fun (really!) game. I am sincerely grateful for Bill’s friendship, conversation, and support during lockdown. And over the next 3 months we became a group of 7-10 people regularly pitching in.

Something shifted when we had almost picked up all the litter. Our purpose for meeting was about to disappear until one of the group pointed at a tree and said “It looks out of place. Should we cut it down?” After a very short debate, we went ahead. It was a buddleia tree that was, we found out, strangling a neighbouring holly and stealing all its sunlight.

Then we started planting flowers and a herb garden, pruning bushes, and uncovering paths from the grass which had swallowed them whole.

In those early days we knew nothing of gardening. But that didn’t stop us. In fact, we had a very vague but strong sense of purpose. We were creating something better. We were working it out as we went along. After all, it was hard to make the green site worse than how we found it.

When we started gardening, we had no tools. We posted on Facebook, in local community groups, for help of both kinds. We reached out to a local urban farm (thank you, Rooted in Hull!)which lent us tools, and, crucially, use for their toilet on long gardening sessions.

An overall plan would have made our workload far less windy and far easier. But it would have taken the organically changing mystery of it all out. Our work/play retained its dreamlike, rabbit-hole exploration. We marvelled at how the plants changed, how the sun filtered through the leaves, at mushroom fairy rings, and the simple act of digging to uncover something. We, life-long city dwellers, pranced around in all the joys well known to every countryside child. We took our time – a blessing of lockdown.

We enjoyed the task at hand and we asked for help when we needed it. I think that was the key to our success in the early days.

We asked the local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, to write a story about us. This got us the support of local tour guides, amateur historians, more volunteers, and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

What imbued my 18 months at this site was a sense of play. We learned the site was the Churchyard of St. Peter’s Church. The church itself had been bombed during the Second World War. It explained the headstones we found headstones under the ivy. Our amateur historian created a history info board for us.

We called the site – after the statue – Thinkers Corner. We spent endless discussions deciding where the apostrophe in the title should go. Was the park the domain of the statue (singular), therefore Thinker’s Corner. Or were we all the thinkers, and therefore Thinkers’ Corner? We had time so such things in 2020.

ย  ย 

Somebody who was unable to help with the gardening but wanted to contribute offered to design us a logo.

Suddenly we had all the gear, but no idea. Well… some idea, slowly but surely.

One brilliantly silly idea, in keeping with the joyous way we gardened, was to have a Renosing Ceremony. It started off as Bill’s joke but everyone supported it. It happened around 18 months after we started gardening. We got a grant from Hull City Council to glue a new nose on. We met the original artist who shared with us the cast of the original sculpture.

We invited the mayor down, and everyone who had helped turn a neglected patch of green into a park. Performers, tour guides, etc., all pitched in to make the event a success.

We got in the Yorkshire Post, Hull Radio and more. It was a wonderful way to celebrate all our efforts.

It also formed part of a handover, as I left ‘ull, of Thinkers Corner back to the city council. The land now remains maintained by the council – although volunteers are always welcome to get involved. The list of people to thank is endless.

I’m very grateful for my time as part of this project.

What I learned above all is to ask for help. Ask for help found many willing people ready to give it. I found that the help of others is what snowballed this project on more than anything else. Tools, advice, calls for help – we asked for it all.

Secondly, I believe that “what is fun, tends to go on.” We had an inordinate amount of fun! We laughed, we had great conversations, we explored and saw the wonder of the everyday nature in front of our eyes.

GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR PROJECT – and crucially, enjoy it.

Money remained a problem throughout. That’s now why Leaves Breathe runs Corporate Gardening Volunteer days in London (pictured below) to fund and help support changes to public and community green spaces.

Thinker’s Corner looked after us as we looked after the garden. Cheesy as that sounds there was a felt reciprocity. Leaves Breathe now wants to support other groups going through that change and bringing their green sites to life.

If you work at a corporate company that would like to help a community green space with an injection of funds, people power, and plants then let us know.

Please email to book a Corporate Gardening Day now.

(Psst.. We’re excitedly planning A Corporate Gardening Volunteer day at Thinker’s Corner in 2024 – fingers crossed they come off!)

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We are a London-based social enterprise. All profits are re-invested in the business and in the community green spaces we support.

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