Greener Together: Artbox

Person sat at a table with art materials and a large, colourful piece of paper

Earlier this year, the council launched the Islington Greener Together project, which helps residents, businesses and community groups turn unused areas in their local streets into beautiful green spaces. From herb and spice gardens to mini orchards and parklets, there will be lots of exciting projects popping up across Islington – Artbox, a local charity and art school for people with autism and learning difficulties, for example, is planning to set up a community ‘dye garden’. Tutor Jonathan Small and co-director Madeline Alterman tell us more


Artbox is a charity and social enterprise that gives people with autism, learning difficulties and special educational needs the opportunity to practice art and improve their skills. It’s all about boosting the confidence of the people that come and giving them the opportunity to meet other people – there’s a real social side to it.

Given how it’s been over the past couple of years with Covid-19 and the lockdowns, with many places closing down or reducing their offering and crucial lifelines and social connections being cut off, we feel so fortunate that we’ve been able to keep going.

Our co-director Madeline put together the application to Islington Greener Together, and our idea is to grow plants from which we can harvest dyes to make inks and paints for our sessions. It’d also act as a relaxing space for people to sit down together and have lunch, or to learn a bit more about gardening, so it’s another string to our bow.

During lockdown, I did a few horticultural courses, so Madeline has put me forward as someone who may be able to tend to the plants! We’d also open it up to the people who attend our sessions, as another activity for them to enjoy and a creative outlet.


We buy a lot of paint, much of which comes in small plastic bottles – which is something we want to address. We’re a small charity, but we still have a responsibility: whether you’re an individual, a small group, or a huge organisation, we all need to operate in a way that’s as environmentally friendly as possible.

We know that our impact can be quite big, so we’re working to become carbon neutral. The first step towards achieving that was teaching our participants about the importance of the environment and the steps we can all take to create a better future. The next step is putting that into action, which is what we’re working to do.

Through Islington Greener Together, we want to create a dye garden, which will allow us to grow our own dyes and inks for our artists to work with. It’ll mean we can cut down on the number of plastic bottles of paint we’re bringing in but will also be an enjoyable activity for our participants.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw how important it is to look after our mental health. People with learning difficulties and autism are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and with Covid we’ve seen a rise in the number of artists coming to us with anxiety, feelings of sadness, and depression. Gardening and exercise can help, so we want to give our participants the opportunity to work with their hands; with soil and nature. The dye garden is one of the ways that we can do that, working with them to promote mental health, before they need to turn to the NHS, medication, or therapy.

Use the council’s carbon calculator tool to see what changes you can make to improve the environment and make a pledge. There are also lots of opportunities to join a local group and make a difference in your community. Find out more on the Together Greener website

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