Spades of Style

5 November 2019 | Midlands

Eunice McGhie

Wise words and green fingers have captivated youngsters for more than 20 years

A decade ago, great-grandmother Eunice McGhie-Belgrave won a Pride of Britain Award in 2009 for helping inner city children in Handsworth, Birmingham.

She inspired generations of children to grow and cook their own vegetables and take pride in their community after riots blighted the area in 1989. 

Known as the first lady of allotments, police have also credited her with helping reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in the area. 

Ten years on, and now a sprightly 85 years of age, she is still inspiring the next generation and helping them achieve their potential.

Known locally as Mrs McGhie, she launched Handsworth-based allotments project ‘Shades of Black’, to teach young people in the area basic gardening skills around twenty years ago. The project took kids, aged from four to 18, to three large allotments in Birmingham where they were taught about soil, seed germination, digging, planting, watering and weeding. They also learnt about teamwork and responsibility along the way.

Although she no longer runs the allotments project, she still teaches gardening to children and teenagers in her garden in Stechford with her Back Garden Project.

Every weekend she holds around three sessions a day, with around five young people attending each one. “Small groups are better, that way we all get to know each other,” says Eunice. 

She added: "When I first started out in 1989 people laughed at me and said it wouldn't work. But I showed them that it would. Nowadays I do get the odd ache and pain but I just get on with it. I don’t like making a fuss.

“The secret to looking as good as I do, is being outside every day,” she giggles. “That’s why I’ve got no wrinkles.”

One family who have become close to Eunice is the Khan family. Dad Sajid said her kind and wise counsel had helped their family for over a decade.

“She has been a great inspiration for all my five children. I have always seen her as part of the family and we still call her up for advice to this day. The one-to-one help she has given my children has been extraordinary.

“She’s a wonderful person. My son Hasnain, now 16, was struggling at school but wasn’t getting adequate help. She took him under her wing and got him working in the allotment. She was also helping him his school work. He went to do really well, and got some of the best GCSEs in his year group.”

He added: “Still today she works with my youngest, my seven-year-old daughter Maryam, and does baking with her and has even taught her how to sew.”

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