Premier Inn Hotel Car Park Food Growing Site
Our first unmitigated success with public food growing sites came at the Premier Inn Hotel in Belsize. It took a year and several hotel managers, but eventually we won the right to build raised beds in a corner of their car park. A group of Transitioners who live in the surrounding streets came together to create a food growing space using permaculture principles. The aim was to inspire residents, hotel staff and guests to grow food and think about sustainability.
We had planned to do a raised bed building workshop with a carpenter but at the appointed hour the heavens opened and he got stuck on a roof mending someone’s leaks. So two of us tried to make a raised bed out of old pallets using first principles ie none! Five hours later we were very wet, had sore arms from pulling out and banging in rusty old nails, and had built just one slightly rickety looking bed. Not very permaculture!
The next day some feminine intuition was applied to the problem. Where it had taken two men five hours to build one bed it now took a matter of minutes for two women to design the energy out of the process and another few minutes to build a bed. We men could only look on in wonder!
Next we needed compost, which the North London Waste Authority kindly provided for free - five tonnes of it! The hotel loaned us two parking spaces for the compost delivery – “as long as it doesn’t smell and you move it in two days,” said the manager. It stank. And five tonnes is a lot of compost. We couldn’t use it all so the call went out across the neighbourhood – “come and get some free compost – please!” We were panicking but fortunately the good burghers of Belsize came to our rescue and the excess compost melted away.
Planting the beds was huge fun if a little chaotic. People brought seedlings they’d been growing at home and stuck them in wherever they could find a space. Next year maybe we’ll do a better job of rotating the four main types of vegetable through our four main beds!
With the beds in and planted our thoughts turned to water. On day one, when we’d been doing our permaculture base map, we’d noticed a nearby wall with a ledge on one side of it that seemed like a good place to collect rainwater. So we rigged up some guttering and some water butts. It took a couple of attempts to get the guttering pointing downwards towards the butts but it’s all valuable learning and hopefully we won’t need to use mains water any more.
We also put in two wormeries so that we could recycle our own food waste and generate compost. Our secondary aim was to persuade the head chef of the hotel restaurant’s to bring us their food waste. In a sense this site is a Trojan Horse for us – we want to involve the hotel staff more and more in what we’re doing so that they feel a sense of ownership, so that their staff can learn about food growing, and so that the management keep moving down the road towards genuine sustainability in their operations.
With the beds all planted and abundant we invited the local media, the Camden Council’s Cabinet Member for Sustainability and staff from the hotel to a Grand Launch. Even the Premier Inn regional boss came along and was impressed by what he saw - and tasted! By then, six weeks after the launch of the site, we were able to provide salad, beans, peas and strawberries. The hotel management are now talking about putting a green wall on their ugly 1960s building and bee hives on the flat roof. Hopefully one day they’ll allow us to expand our food growing into actual car parking spaces. Or maybe we’ll just be able to take them over when the cars stop coming because fuel is too expensive!
Now we’re thinking about planting espalier fruit trees along the walls in the autumn and organising food growing and permaculture workshops on the site. It’s been an amazing experience – partly because we surprised ourselves by how much food we were able to grow, partly because of the bonds it has created between people and partly because it has already inspired so many people.