Urban Green

On Saturday morning I left my house wheeling a pink buggy.  Balanced on it a clothes drying rack, a sheet of cardboard, a yoga mat, a cardboard box with five balloons (advertising Pet Pals- the remnants of a visit with my grandchildren to our local Pets at Home, meet a pet event,  earlier in the week).  In a bag suspended from the buggy handles was a cyclamen in a pot, 30 envelopes each containing 3 sunflower seeds, some random info about plants, a clipboard and two pens, and a jam jar for donations.

I was off to our ‘on site’ event at the car park space we are hoping to convert from a fly-tip site to a tiny community garden.   We’d abandoned the idea of having a naming competition for it, and instead chose the name ourselves – Urban Green.  So, the leaflets about the meet up which we posted through neighbours’ doors earlier in the week, encouraging them to come along, bore the name, as did the laminated notices we put on the street’s lamp-posts.

This felt like a make-or-break session – would we drum up enough interest to get going? Neither of us wanted to do it with just the two of us.  (The two being, me and a neighbour who’d responded to my first NextDoor post about the idea – see last week’s blog).

I got to the site – amazingly cleared – as if in readiness for us to start work.   I set to, putting up the drying rack, and laying the cardboard and yoga mat on top – hey presto, an instant table!   I’d had the idea and tried it out at home the evening before – it was a brainwave in the absence of a picnic or painting table, helped by the fact that I’d just had something delivered in a large cardboard box – the length and breadth happening to be the exact dimensions of the top of the drying rack. 

Before I’d got it completely up with the stuff laid out on it, someone rushed out of her house – almost next to the site.  She’d seen me walk past with a pink buggy, carting odd looking things, heading for the site and thought I was about to tip them there!  She’d rushed out to tell me not to and give me a piece of her mind! 

My friend arrived and we all had a good laugh – the neighbour telling us how she frequently went out to ‘howl like a banshee’ at fly-tippers, how she’s repeatedly asked the council to do something about the tip, and how she was going to whole-heartedly support the endeavour to create a community garden.  Our first sign-up.  Wonderful. 

We reckoned we would need a minimum of five committed enthusiasts plus us two.  It was only five minutes into our planned two-hours stay, we had one.  We were already on a roll.

At the end of the two hours, we had 10 people volunteering to help. We’d, also heard wonderful stories on many topics – about the history of the street – some people have lived on it thirty years –   about the woeful number of ‘do-not-care’ renters who when they leave the property sling everything onto the site.  (I didn’t let on that I am a renter), about the impact of council funding cuts – the monthly skip service cancelled, the food-waste collection stopped, the local recycling centre closed meaning a trip right across the borough to the other one, about the ‘nice’ neighbours and the ‘horrible’ neighbours and so on.

It was huge fun, people chatted to each other for the first time, even though they’d seen or passed each other frequently on the street and just nodded hello – or not even that.   I saw the makings of a real community collaboration.   The next challenge is how to keep the momentum going.

We’ve taken three steps already – first, setting up a Whats App group to keep in touch, drive actions, contribute ideas, etc.  Second, agreeing to go next weekend and clear away the broken glass, dig over the patch of soil surrounding the tree and readying it for bedding plants – a token of what will come.  Third making contact with the person who one of the sign-ups says tips pallets there – the sign-up knows the house the pallet-tipper lives in.  I offered to write a careful letter to asking if he, Pallet Tipper, could donate 16 pallets and help us convert them into four big planters, working on the principle that I’ve found has worked in the past, of inviting collaboration from those who you might perceive as adversaries.

Now we’re discussing the next steps and asking lots of questions, including: 

  • Can we find sponsors who will sponsor a planter?
  • Where will we get funding from?
  • Who might give us donations?
  • Who could give us advice and support?
  • How will we stop people continuing to fly-tip and/or vandalise the planters?
  • How formally organised might we need to be (in order to accept donations, sponsorship, funding)?

We’ve got some starts on answering these questions.  Our local Voluntary and Community Sector Support Lead has sent info on funding workshops they are running.  She’s also sent info on legal structures for community and voluntary groups.

We now have contact names for our Green Space Network co-ordinators.  They have a newsletter and a monthly meeting, plus ad hoc advice.  Joining this would embed us into the apparently largely volunteer-run green spaces in the borough.

Lots of food for thought in all this (and, perhaps in the future, actual food growing – one of the organisations someone told us about is Crops not Shops with a mission to ‘inspire people towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle. To transform land, gardens and green spaces everywhere into thriving ecosystems of biodiversity and organic food productivity’.)

I’m learning new things like crazy – not only about the street history, views on fly-tipping and council de-funding impacts, but also about the borough green space network’s environment manifesto, the politics surrounding ‘greening’ and the types of support we may get e.g. litter picking equipment.

Beyond this I’ve learned there are thriving networks of various voluntary/community organisations working in their areas to improve their streets and green spaces and offering all sorts of possibilities we might take up for collaboration, mutual support, and exchanges of this and that.

Finally, I’m learning that there’s lots to do in order to keep this initiative going and making it thrive – it could turn into a full-time job which, from my point of view, is a plus as it will distract me from dwelling on the horrors of the global wars and climate destruction that is waging.  I can’t do much to influence the course of these, but I can do my bit to influence locally and, perhaps, build a supportive community greening enterprise.

Do you have any tips for developing a community greening initiative?  Let me know.  

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