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Jeremy Corbyn calls on community to volunteer at Holloway's homeless-run allotment

PUBLISHED: 09:09 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:09 20 May 2019

Wray Crescent Community Gardening project. Picture: Friends of Wray Crescent

Wray Crescent Community Gardening project. Picture: Friends of Wray Crescent

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Islington's most famous allotment keeper is calling on green fingered volunteers to help grow food with the homeless at a Holloway community garden - and he has honoured Britain's first female black headteacher, which it's to be named after.

Wray Crescent Community Gardening project. Picture: Friends of Wray CrescentWray Crescent Community Gardening project. Picture: Friends of Wray Crescent

Jeremy Corbyn is backing a new community gardening project run by Friends of Wray Crescent (FoWC), which has seen it partner up with grassroots outreach group Streets Kitchen so the homeless can help grow their own food.

The project, which is funded by Islington Council and the mayor of London's Greener City, has so far seen more than 200 volunteers muck in to help create raised plant beds where neighbours and community groups can plant their own crops. The garden is situated at the Thorpdale Road entrance to Wray Crescent Park and is set to be named after local hero Yvonne Conolly: Britain's first black headteacher, who worked at Highbury's former Ringcross Infant School.

The Labour leader and Islington North MP told the Gazette: "I've seen plants that have been put there - it looks really good.

"Big thanks to Streets Kitchen and Islington Arts and Media School for supporting this great project. People growing understand a lot about themselves, as well as the things they're growing. It's a fantastic initiative and I'm pleased it's happening in Wray Crescent Park."

Yvonne Connolly. Picture: Myeloma UKYvonne Connolly. Picture: Myeloma UK

Mr Corbyn said he'd never had the pleasure of meeting Ms Conolly personally, as Ringcross is in the Islington South and Finsbury constituency, but he was quick to honour her legacy in the community and classrooms all over the country.

"What an appropriate title for such an incredible achievement," he said. "She paved the way for many, many other incredible teachers to follow."

Ms Conolly arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1963, aged 23. She was headteacher at Ringcross Infant School from 1969 to 1976.

Ms Conolly has previously spoken of feeling "flabbergasted" when she first got the job at Ringcross, owing to the fact she was 29 and it was only the second headship she'd applied for.

She also told a broadcaster about the racism she encountered while working at the school in May.

"People cut out photos of me from the newspapers," she said. "And wrote to the school, telling me to go back to where I came from and that I looked like a monkey,

"Somebody even threatened to burn the school down.

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"On my first day, I was escorted into the school by one of the senior inspectors from Inner London's education authority because they took some of the threats seriously.

"But it was a happy school and the staff were excellent.

" It was in quite a poor area of London, but had a mix of children - some West Indian, some African, some European and some white middle class."

She still lives "a street or two" away from the allotments and has written to the Friends group to thank them for honouring her legacy.

"Streets Kitchen is fantastic and Yvonne Conolly is a local hero," said Friends of Wray Crescent chair Jonny Evans.

"I don't want to put words in Streets Kitchen's mouth or the mouth of people who are homeless - but I think one of the things that's really difficult in those situations is feeling normal because people are ostracised.

"So I think the gardening provides balance for people who are otherwise under a great deal of stress.

"In Islington we are very aware of the plight of homeless people. There can be a lot of prejudice so I think it's important to enable people to meet across that barrier over a gardening hoe or shovel."

He added: "We are determined to be open and continue to extend invitation to the wider community us - we don't want to turn into a bunch of NIMBYs."

Streets Kitchen coordinator Jon Glackin added: "We have built these lovely raised beds and planted seeds, spuds and onions - it's nice."

He's calling on as many Gazette readers as possible to "give a shift" by getting stuck in with the Streets Kitchen so it can produce as much food as possible on its allotment space.

Islington's education chief Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz said: "It's wonderful the gardens will be named after Yvonne Conolly, who has been a pioneer for equality her whole life."

If you want to volunteer please email friendsofwray@icloud.com or visit streetskitchen.org/volunteering

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