1 Vale Lane – South Bristol Sensory Garden

Sensory gardens in South Bristol will be creative spaces specifically designed to meet most needs. Some meetings will focus more on individuals working as a team, building relationships and growing in confidence whilst achieving a specific goal, there will also be opportunities for individuals to work by themselves, raising their own plants and creating a mini allotment of their own.

These inclusive social and educational activities include garden design, practical plant maintenance & care, studying interesting horticultural ideas from around the world (and bug hunting!) which will dovetail with art, sculpture, writing, storytelling, food preparation and cooking.

Children and young people with additional needs, their parents, carers and siblings will be encouraged to take home projects, thus creating continuity and sparking ideas when the families are away from the alternative creative pathway to learning provided by Green Spaces.

Initially, participation will be through invitation. However, if you are interested in getting involved, or know of someone who would benefit from being involved, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

How it started –

Bristol Fish Project was hoping to undertake the task of creating an urban Community Garden whilst simultaneously regenerating a rare piece of urban greenery. 

A garden design was put forward by a team of students studying permaculture with Shift Bristol and local permaculture guru Lloyd Richards started working on the development of a stepwise plan.

Bristol Fish Project gave a call out on social media inviting projects to develop the garden and JK of Natural Opportunities got in touch to say… we have an idea!


The community garden will be built on the grounds of the Bristol Fish Project, which is housed on Vale Lane Industrial estate and comprises of around ⅔ acre of land and is spanned by a stretch of the river Malago. It is rare that such a modern industrial site is graced with a river and the dichotomy between the local industrial activities and the existence of the natural environment has meant that the garden and river have both been left to fall into decay. We want to demonstrate that urban activities do not have to be to the demise of the natural environment and demonstrate ways in which urban ventures can improve the natural world.

We will begin by restoring the river malago, removing the accumulated debris which have been dumped in the river and along its banks. We’ve already hauled 3 skips full of rubbish from the river!

The overgrowth which entangles the river and restricts beneficial plant growth will be taken back to encourage the growth of ground coverage to increase infiltration. There are many benefits to restoring our natural river systems, particularly in urban environments. The river flows through the industrial estate from the Manor Woods Local Nature Reserve where it goes on to join the river Avon. The river will be a vital ‘Green Corridor’ offering an array of animals a safe passage to green spaces and rivers, increasing habitat and biodiversity in our cities.

Once the river is clear work can begin on the community garden. The site was historically a brickworks with associated clay pits which were backfilled with household refuse and was more recently used as a car spray painting facility. These activities have led to the accumulation of heavy metals and contamination in the soil. Working with the in situ contaminated land the productive part of the community garden will initially be built using an array of specially designed raised beds and innovative vertical growing techniques which translate our indoor urban agricultural techniques into replicable systems our beneficiaries can implement in their own spaces. The desired garden combines productive garden space with biodiversity focused wild space via a permaculture design approach, which maximises the positive impacts of any human activities on the local environment. The plan includes setting up a lean to greenhouse on part of the site previously designated as parking. This will allow for plant propagation and a teaching environment for use in adverse weather conditions.

As we are building a Community Garden centered around improving the skills and well-being of our local community it is imperative that we improve the sites access. Access is currently limited from the main road, where there is a bus stop directly adjacent the property. Though there is a gate and the remnants of a pathway to the rear the embankment is steep, overgrown and access currently leads to a neighbouring property. To encourage community involvement via public transport and to increase accessibility we would like to create a small accessible footbridge and footpath which leads directly into our community garden from the bus stop and main road.

Further to rejuvenating the Malago river and creating a thriving and cutting edge Community Garden we would like our impact on the site to have an ongoing regenerative impact. We aim to work towards remediating the sites soil and water through a combination of bio and mycoremediation techniques. Waste streams from both the garden and the aquaponics warehouse will be repurposed to create biofiltration to neutralise contaminants. Edible mushrooms grown on site will provide the mycelia (the root system) needed for heavy metal absorption and neutralisation.

From inception to completion the project centers around the local community and works with them through a series of workshops and hands on events (see bellow). We will work independently as an organisation and through partnerships when working with groups with specific and complex needs. Groups such as the pre-entry groups from the City of Bristol College and The South Bristol Skills Academy, through the Horizons and Skills development course, which provides education and hands on learning to adults (16-25) with learning difficulties and disabilities. The gardens will also provide a training site used by Shift Bristols Practical Sustainability Course and as a research project for Bristol University students conducting bioremediation work with us. We will also be working closely with the Malago Valley Conservation Trust, Environment Agency and Manor Woods Nature reserve and Bristol Council.

Through the work undertaken on a contaminated and run down site the local community will gain a plethora of knowledge from gaining a better understanding of their individual impact on the environment, industrial impacts on the environment, food cultivation, innovative urban growing techniques through to more complex skills such as mushroom propagation, contamination testing, vertical growing, permaculture and bio and mycoremediation techniques. We seek to reinvigorate, educate and inspire the local community and hope that our work will have effects beyond our site by changing individual behaviours, improving skills and strengthening the local community as well as demonstrating that the urban and natural environment can exist harmoniously in the heart of our cities.