A growing urge to aid the community
ROXANNA Cox is an organiser of a new project called Crop Share, in which people with fruit trees are asked to donate spare produce to the Swindon Foodbank. She lives in Penhill with husband Robert, who is a painter and decorator, and has six children aged between 14 and 34.
COMMUNITY spirit and gardening have been guiding themes of Roxanna Cox’s life since her London childhood.
“Community is all about people joining together,” she said.
“Too often, we live separate lives in our own little boxes, our own houses.
“We don’t realise that there are people out there who are really nice people, good people, and that you need to support one another.”
Roxanna was born in 1961 in Bethnal Green, within the sound of Bow Bells, the middle child of three.
“I’m a true cockney,” she said. “Dad was a general dealer. He sold antiques and things like that. Mum’s last job was at Annabel’s nightclub in London, where she handled the bills.
“My granddad, John Bates, was a gardener. He worked for Greater London Council in Victoria Park in the East End.
“He was a miner from Whitehaven originally. He was a caring, loving person who loved gardening. It was his passion. We grew veg together – he had an allotment. There was also a garden at home. I’ve always been an outdoor sort of person.”
In 1979 Roxanna started a City And Guilds course in horticulture at a college in Norwood Green.
“I didn’t complete my course because I was stung by a bee and my doctor told me I had to pack it in because I was allergic to bee stings.
“Later I was told by another doctor we’re all allergic to bee stings, so I’d packed it up for no good reason.”
Roxanna’s passion for gardening remained undimmed, and she secured work tending some of the capital’s garden squares. The move to Swindon came in 1988.
She said: “I wanted raise the family in better surroundings, with less violence and drugs. There were a lot of drug problems and a lot of needles where we lived.
“It was also a very materialistic society and I wanted to get back to a more basic way of life.”
Roxanna was a community development worker until being made redundant late last year.
Her roles included establishing and running support groups and activity groups, as well as establishing a community garden.
For years community work has occupied much of her spare time, too. Once again her grandfather’s influence has been crucial.
“In the Depression my grandfather used to help people make furniture and gifts in wood. I think he was one of the original founders of the Labour Party,” she said.
“He was like a community worker, and I would say community work is in my blood.
“I got involved with the Penhill Forum when I came here.”
In 2000 Roxanna heard from a fellow community worker about a £10m Government grant made available through the Sure Start initiative to help improve Penhill and Pinehurst for residents. There was a catch, though.
“She said that if they weren’t able to get the residents involved they wouldn’t be able to get the funding,” Roxanna said.
“They were having difficulty in finding anybody who’d become involved so I had no choice.”
Roxanna volunteered for the Sure Start management board and was involved in the organisation’s delivery plan.
Later she managed to combine her two main passions – community work and horticulture – by becoming involved with the Penhill Community Orchard project.
A total of 200 apple trees were planted on a former allotment site, and provide fruit for the community to this day.
She is adamant volunteering is good not just for the community but also for the volunteers.
Her advice for anybody wondering whether volunteer work is for them is simple: “Try it and see.
“Volunteering is the most brilliant thing that you can do,” she said.
“All of my favourite work experiences have been while volunteering.”