Where is this and who and how did it start?
The original plan for this area was to create a hub and a group called the `Arbourthorne Food Growers`. However, while delivering leaflets, our Community Growers Coordinator met someone from the Spires Centre (a Church and Community centre) who explained that he would like to create a community garden. The Spires had agreed to take over the land next to the Church which belonged to the school, The school had recently gone into special measures and the existing growing project was no longer a priority; the land hadn’t been used for two years. The arrangement was made with a view to the school making use of it in the future and the longer term aim is to help rebuild the relationship between school and the local community.
After further discussions our Community Growers Co-ordinator decided to change his original plan and work with the Spires to create a garden which would be used by the whole community. His experience from his first hub in Walkley had highlighted the difficulties of working in an area without having a central space for storage and deliveries so he could see the benefit of working from one central place.
What did the project do?
There is high unemployment in this area and potentially there are many people who can benefit from such a project. However, our focus for the first year was on getting the site `grow ready` so that there was something tangible for people to work on in the future.
This was very much a hands on project because we needed to start from scratch. However, this also meant that there was a lot more to show for our time. We ran weekly sessions with regular volunteers and this has made a real difference in getting this project going. It is very inspiring to see the physical transformation and to achieve specific goals such as creating the polytunnel and raised beds. Over the year we built 11 raised beds and one polytunnel with the help of Sheffield University and Grow Sheffield volunteers. We held 4 volunteer days where we moved over 10 tonnes of compost – we needed to move it 50 metres so there was lots of wheel-barrowing back and forth! This was a fantastic help to get the project off the ground but it did mean that most of the volunteers were from outside the area.
How successful was it?
Spending one year in an area is fine but you need longer to really establish and develop networks and also to get things growing. The community cafe is opening again and the vegetables grown will be used in the cafe which is another great way of getting people interested in the garden. Spires is also a food bank and we are hoping to link in with this, so rather than just hand out the food we are hoping to show people how you can grow food too.
The preparation has been completed and the growing begins in earnest. We have assisted the group in a successful funding application which will enable the project to flourish.
What have we learned?
One unexpected concern was what to do with the vegetables we had grown! It has been hard to encourage people to actually take it, especially some of the slightly more exotic salad leaves because people didn’t know what to do with them. Some of the radishes had got so big that people didn’t recognise them! Our Community Growers Co-ordinator spent time teaching one of the regular members how to harvest with the aim that he could help encourage others.
James Adams said “People are nervous of growing and they think it’s something that they will fail at. However, you just have to treat it as an experiment – that way you can’t fail. Just pick it and see what happens!”
James had an idea but changed his mind because something more suitable came up. The Spires Centre already had the demand to develop a community garden but they needed the experience of someone like James to get their plan off the ground. The lesson here therefore, is don’t be too rigid in your plans. Listen to people in the community as your idea may not be what is best for the area.