A grant from the Master’s Fund is supporting efforts to revitalise a plot of local land as a College allotment where St Catharine’s students can come together to garden and cultivate food.
Before this year, a small group of postgraduates had been tending to the allotment, which is located near the College’s sports pitches next to plots maintained by local residents. However, this became difficult during the pandemic, when students were dispersed across the globe and the toughest restrictions prevented anyone in Cambridge from meeting up to garden together. As a result, during the first lockdown in the UK, the number of students visiting the allotment dwindled to two, one of whom was Dina Ashour (2016, Molecular Biology):
“We tried our best to keep things ticking over for the last year, even when lockdown restrictions meant we had to garden alone and alternate when we visited to avoid household mixing. It is great to have the backing from College and motivated students from both the JCR and the MCR so we can give the allotment some much-needed tender loving care.”
Peter Bolgar (2013, Natural Sciences) applied for funding from the College and secured a budget of £750 to buy new plants (including perennials and a tree for future generations of students to enjoy) and new infrastructure in the form of raised beds made from wooden planks:
Pictured: Dina (left) and Peter (right) at the College allotment.
“We’re incredibly grateful that the Master’s Fund is able to support our vision for reviving the allotment. The College’s encouragement has been fantastic, from the Bursar offering funding advice, to the Head Gardener being so generous with his ideas and practical tips.”
Both Peter and Dina are passionate about the benefits of the allotment for St Catharine’s students.
Peter reflects, “Gardening is an important way to switch off from my PhD research – it gives me a reason to take a break and walk over to check on the plants. It also encourages me to be more patient because it can take weeks or months before I see the results of my labours. I grew up in tiny rural town in Hungary and was taught to garden after school by my grandma, but it has been amazing to draw on this experience now I’m in Cambridge.”
In contrast, Dina’s childhood was spent in an urban environment (Hamburg, Germany) but she took up gardening as a child after participating in a local, feminist project that gave girls the opportunity to become familiar with STEM issues and connect with nature.
She explains, “Whether you are a complete beginner or an experienced gardener, all Catz students are welcome to turn up and get stuck in. Now we have a larger group of students involved, it is great to see knowledge being shared freely. The allotment will definitely benefit from more volunteers and a blend of intuitive and science-based approaches.”
They also see obvious advantages from working with the College’s Welfare Team and Green Working Group, who they hope to involve in future activities.
Dina comments, “We intend to use sustainable gardening methods in the allotment: students will have an opportunity to grow their own food, make their own compost and try out alternatives to pesticides and plastics. There are imaginative ideas planned like growing carrots in old welly boots that we’ve picked up from local charity shops.”
Peter adds, “The allotment already provides a really secluded, calm space where students can connect with nature. It is also a space where we can experiment, be creative and just have fun, with a sense of freedom that is often lacking in adult life. The new funding will ensure we can use the allotment to promote wellbeing among the College community and encourage collaboration between undergraduate and postgraduate students.”
Peter is in the process of formalising a St Catharine’s Allotment Society and writing its constitution. In the meantime, any St Catharine’s students wanting to find out how to get involved are welcome to contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or Dina on email@example.com.