A RETIRED soil scientist from Dudley who has transformed an overgrown community garden in Brierley Hill has told of his joy at being awarded a BEM in the King’s Birthday Honours List.

Dr Kenneth Smith has been recognised as a Medallist of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the community.

The 73-year-old has spent the last decade transforming a disused parcel of land in Brierley Hill into a thriving community hub.

The land, located off Bull Street on the Hawbush estate, was formerly home to an urban farm created to provide a much-needed green space in an area with high levels of deprivation.

By 2014 it had become overgrown, neglected and disused but Ken, as he’s known, turned the Hawbush Community Gardens site into a green oasis which is now used regularly by locals and community groups engaged in produce growing, gardening, art and crafts and wildlife conservation.

He was originally a volunteer with the Brierley Hill Project, which hosted a foodbank, and he said: “I just felt we should try and get more fresh produce and I found out Hawbush Community Gardens was available but it was completely derelict. It was like a jungle.”

Ken has devoted nine years to painstakingly transforming the site, which now hosts family days and other community events.

Produce grown there is also donated to the Black Country Food Bank, enabling families in need to pick up fresh vegetables as well as the mostly packaged food they receive in donations.

Ken has also devoted his time to working with a variety of groups and individuals including young offenders, primary school children and people with mental health conditions, who have benefitted from spending time outdoors in nature.

The site now comprises 26 allotment plots but Ken said: “It’s much more than that. It’s a charity and we’re entirely run by volunteers and we have a large number of groups involved and we have people come through social prescribing.

“We also have people come for community reparation and you often find they’re young people who’ve made a wrong choice. It’s a privilege to be able to help them.”

Ken, who admits to spending many hours at the site, has also helped to develop a ‘seed to plate’ initiative – giving local schoolchildren an insight into where their food comes from and allowing them to experience the joy of growing their own vegetables and creating dishes from the ingredients.

He said of his Royal award: “It’s really lovely. Like a lot of volunteers, I don’t do it for any recognition. It keeps me fit and it makes you feel happy that you’re doing something that’s worthwhile.

“It’s lovely to have that recognition though. It’s wonderful that somebody actually thought you’re worth nominating. It’s a great honour.”

It’s not the first Royal seal of approval for the work going on at the site. In 2022 the project volunteers were awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

To find out more check out website hawbushgardens.co.uk or email hawbushgardens@gmail.com