Growing community in a tenant-run garden

Todd and Bent Street tenants in their garden
Tenants in the Todd & Bent Street community garden – Liliana, Priscilla, Paula, Dennis and Daniel.

The public housing tenants at Todd & Bent Street have been working hard to create a vibrant community and a luscious community garden. Thanks to their love and care, a permaculture garden now thrives in an area which used to be neglected. We spoke to some of the residents and asked them about the garden and their experiences as tenants.

Residents and guests in the community garden
Residents in the garden

Sharon Lacey recently completed a permaculture design course at Warrawong High School, and has been a leading participant in designing and nurturing the garden. She says “I’ve lived here for more than six years and there have been ups and downs like everywhere. It’s great that my grandkids can come and visit and enjoy the garden now. Sometimes there have been repairs needed at my apartment, and it can be difficult to get them done. I even had to write a letter to my local member to get things fixed, but in general it’s in pretty good condition. I study permaculture and work in the local community, so this is a good place for me to live.”

Natasha and Sharyn standing outside the community garden
Natasha Willmer and Sharyn Lacey at the community garden

Permaculture is a system of farming which aims to use patterns found in nature to make a sustainable ecosystem and also provide people with local source of healthy food.

Liezel and Indiana outside their home
Indiana and Liezel, Todd Street tenants

Another tenant, Natasha Willmer, said “I love being involved in the garden. It creates a great atmosphere. The people and the community here are lovely.”

Liezel Lego lives at Todd Street with her daughter Indiana. She says, “I’ve lived here with Indiana for one year and I like it. But it would be good to have more kids living here. Sometimes I bring Indiana to the garden to pick vegetables – it’s good for her. Before I lived here I had some problems with a real estate agent. I didn’t even realise I was in arrears, but they tried to evict me. Luckily I spoke to the Illawarra & South Coast Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (ISCTAAS) and they helped me with the Tribunal. I got an OK outcome in the Tribunal.”

Paula and Priscilla are also residents and volunteers in the garden. Paula says, “I’ve been living here for nearly a year. It’s OK, but all the places need repairs. We also need a number of upgrades like play equipment for kids.”

Priscilla adds, “It’s been excellent living here – it’s a place you can bring up a family and have pets. I have three dogs. I’m keen to volunteer more in the garden.”

At the community garden, there are more than two dozen fruit trees and 20 types of herb. Tenants also grow (and later feast on) corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, spinach and more.

Liezel and Johnny standing next to the beehive
Liezel and Johnny, next to the beehive in the community garden

There is a bustling bee hive in one corner of the garden. The bees help to fertilise the plants.

A tenant cooking pizza in the pizza oven
Cooking pizza in the community garden pizza oven

Benches, a barbecue and even a pizza oven have been added to the garden to increase its usefulness to residents.

The Housing Community Program located at Warrawong Community Centre coordinates and finances the garden. Every Thursday the Program Coordinator, Phoenix Van Dyke, works with the tenants in the garden. The Community Centre also organises funding and grants for particular projects, such as for building the wood-fired oven, BBQ and seating.