Actor Jim Carter backs London scheme to turn unused land into education allotments for children

Councillor Salman Shaheen and Jim Carter with Hounslow schoolchildren (Hounslow Council)
Councillor Salman Shaheen and Jim Carter with Hounslow schoolchildren (Hounslow Council)

Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter has backed a London scheme that is turning acres of unused land into allotments to teach children about growing food.

The 75-year-old called for gardening to be on the national curriculum and gave his “wholehearted support” to Hounslow Council’s Grow for the Future scheme which has seen 27 acres of wasteland in the borough earmarked to become new allotments, community gardens and orchards.

Mr Carter, who is best known as butler Charles Carson in Downton Abbey, said: “I am a keen advocate of gardening, with its self-evident physical and mental health benefits, being admitted on to the national curriculum and Grow for the Future is a wonderful stepping stone towards achieving this aim.”

He added: “I urge all local councils to take a lead from Hounslow and to introduce similar initiatives in their own boroughs. This is an idea whose time has come. Grow for the Future.”

Hounslow’s Grow for the Future scheme aims to turn unloved land into spaces to grow food to help during the cost of living crisis, and to pair the transformed plots with local schools to teach London children about healthy living, sustainability and biodiversity.

The scheme has won backing from the government and the Greater London Authority, with £165,000 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

So far 27 acres of council-owned land have been identified to be turned into gardening spaces in Hounslow.

Jim Carter and wife Imelda Staunton (Dave Benett)
Jim Carter and wife Imelda Staunton (Dave Benett)

A wildflower meadow has already been planted on an empty plot of land in Feltham, and apple, pear and cherry trees will be planted in the next season, along with raspberry and blackberry bushes to turn it into an orchard.

A second orchard is planned on a neglected space in Cranford which is currently used for fly-tipping.

A third project will see new allotments brought to Hatton.

In the future private wasteland that could be leased or purchased by the council and opened up to the public will be assessed.

Mr Carter said: “I am delighted to add my wholehearted support to Hounslow Council’s Grow for the Future initiative. The brilliance of this project lies in its simplicity. Take unused wasteland and utilise it for the benefit of young people who have little or no access to outside space.”

He added: “Get outside. Turn off the screen. Nurture plants. Grow food.”

Salman Shaheen, Hounslow Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Spaces, who launched the scheme, said: “I stand firmly behind Jim Carter’s call for gardening and horticulture to be placed on the national curriculum. But for this important vision to be realised, schools need the space to allow kids to learn and grow amongst nature. It’s vital that this is an opportunity not reserved for the few, but enjoyed by all.

"So it’s up to us, on Britain’s councils, to give children, especially those from state schools in often deprived urban environments, the green space they need.”

He added: “It is fantastic that Jim Carter supports this unique new programme. I hope other councils across the country will be inspired to take unused land and open it up as an educational resource so that we can see gardening and horticulture on the curriculum where they belong.”

The Emmy-nominated actor – who is patron of Greenfingers, a charity that creates gardens for children’s hospices, alongside his wife Imelda Staunton – recently gave evidence to the House of Lords Horticulture Select Committee arguing gardening should be taught in schools and children should be able to get outside and get their hands dirty.