The story of BackToFront

The story of back to front goes back to the summer of 1989 when as part of my research on ‘paan chewing’ I visited nearly 300 Bangladeshi women in their homes.  At that time, a large proportion of the women lived in back to back houses in Leeds and Bradford. I noticed that many of the families used what little front garden was available to grow food.   Often, there was a pot by the entrance door where the tea bags were placed ready to be composted. I can say that towards the end of my study I realised one could literally pin point the Bangladeshi households as judged by the productivity of their front gardens!

Many years later I still work with Black and Minority communities. Many of these still live in back to back houses. In fact Leeds has the greatest proportion of back-to-back houses in the country.  On the first of January 2008 I visited the Bradford district of Saltaire with my family. Our young boys squabbled at the back of the car and as I scrambled between them to avoid WW3 my eyes honed in a small terraced house with an overgrown garden. It made me wonder if it might be possible to literally ‘grow a project’ to help the communities that I worked with to grow their own food.  My husband encouraged me to research and write the idea down. That is how the Back to Front Project was born. I am also grateful to him for coining such a good name for the project!

Initially, I got some funding to do a bit of research to assess the appetite for Back to Front food growing. With encouraging results I obtained further funding to develop three demonstration gardens to show what could be possible and how this wouldn’t in any way look out of place with surrounding gardens, should they happen to be full of flowers.  One of the demonstration gardens produced so much food that the family found it difficult to difficult to get to their front door! But the same family also added that they had been able to make themselves a curry nearly everyday from the food that grew in their own front garden.  Another of the residents asked us for a garden design to give her some privacy as she didn’t know her neighbours and was not so keen to get to know them either. When we came back at the end of the project the same person told us that one of the best things from the project was that her neighbours now said hello to her!

I managed to find further funding to develop the website and commission Landscape Architects at Leeds Beckett University (then Leeds Met), to create a manual for making the most of small garden spaces.  This became our Back to Front Manual available from Leeds Libraries or downloadable

Around this time I set up a community group to be able to support the project financially through grants

I also commissioned Bangladeshi Community Group in South Leeds (ASHA) to help local families to grow food in their front gardens with beautiful and tasty results.  The families grew an amazing range of food from coriander to sweet potatoes and Bangladeshi gourds.  People harvested, prepared and then cooked healthy meals together using ASHA as a meeting point.  Neighbours from different ethnic backgrounds who had lived together side by side for years and years and had never spoken to each other finally introduced each other to different ways to use the same produce and we were all fascinated by a delicious curry made from the leaves of the sweet potato plant!

In the wet summer of 2012, local organisation Space2 supported local people across three different areas in North East Leeds to grow food the Back to Front way.  Over 158 families managed to grow something even if this was just a pot of chives

Over the years people have joined the management committee for the BtoF community group and we have continued to deliver bits of work to achieve our goal of supporting local folk to have ‘front gardens that look good and taste better’

We are always looking for new members and would particularly welcome local residents from diverse backgrounds. Please get in touch via the contact page and help us to achieve a more resilient, green and cohesive city!!!!

Roxana Marisa Summers