Saturday, 14 January 2012

Creating a Community Garden

There is probably a small area of abandoned land near where you live. Maybe you’ve thought it could be usefully converted into a community garden or allotments for local residents. Here in Dinas Powys, we have taken the first steps toward converted an abandoned play area into a community garden. I will outline the process in a series of posts, to demonstrate one way in which it can be done.

With Council spending cuts, the maintenance of children’s play areas has been one of the first things to suffer. There must be numerous former play areas around the UK that are now neglected. Concerns were raised last year about one such former play area, between Nightingale Place and Sir Ivor Place in Dinas Powys. It has become a drinking place for young people, and the resulting antisocial behaviour has become of concern to local residents. Therefore, Elizabeth Millard, Chairperson of the Dinas Powys Residents Group, and Councillor Keith Hatton (Plaid Cymru), initiated a project to secure this area with a fence and turn it into a place where local residents could grow their own food.

The first thing to do is find out who owns the land in question and talk to the relevant people. In this case, the land is owned by the Housing Department of the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Even the footpath past the former play area is owned by Housing, rather then Highways (so Waste Management do not service it, which has exacerbated the poor appearance of the site). After talking to senior people in the Vale of Glamorgan Council, including Mike Ingram (Housing) and Clifford Parish (Waste Management), Elizabeth and Keith got an agreement with the Council for changing the use of the land. The Council will lease the land, free of charge, to the Dinas Powys Residents Group for the purpose of establishing a community garden.

Your local council might have someone employed to help you with community projects like this. Here in the Vale of Glamorgan, Elizabeth and Keith were fortunate to be able to call on Rob McGhee, who works for Creative Rural Communities: a new regeneration and economic development initiative led by the Vale of Glamorgan Council in partnership with various public, private and voluntary sector organisations. The aim of the initiative is to give the people of the rural Vale the power to control the future of their communities. They can provide some initial funding, but Rob’s main role will be to help project manage and obtain funds from Welsh Government sources.

In Wales, funding for the establishment of community gardens on waste ground can be sought from several bodies, including the Rural Development Plan for Wales (2007-2013), a joint Welsh Government and European Union strategy. Funding for the Dinas Powys project will be sought, in the first instance, through Tidy Towns Wales: an initiative launched by the Welsh Government in 2008. Tidy Towns funding is given to local authorities and the Keep Wales Tidy group to empower people to make improvements to their local environment. Projects previously funded have included graffiti and litter clean-ups, fencing, and the transformation of wasteland into community gardens and allotments. Tidy Towns also organize groups of volunteers who can help with clearing wasteland at key stages during projects like this.

In the next few weeks, contractors will be met at the site in Dinas Powys. They will provide estimates for the costs of erecting fencing and clearing the ground. This information will be fed into the grant application process.

The first things to do on the ground will be to fence off the area; take up the rubber surface (which used to be under the play equipment) and the concrete; and remove the weeds, dig up tree roots, and cut back the encroaching hedge. Later, water will be bought into the site at a stand pipe (through Welsh Water) and a communal shed erected.

A first meeting was held this morning (14 Jan) at Murchfield Community Hall, where Elizabeth and Keith informed a group of interested local residents of developments. A core group of local residents will be established as things progress to help establish the community garden.

The layout within the area (920.88 square metres) will be determined at a later date, although it was estimated that around eight plots could comfortably sit within the site. Ideally, the site will be kept flexible to meet the needs of residents. The meeting discussed the possibility of both communal areas (e.g., communal orchard and seating area) and individual plots within the site.

A project like this offers significant improvements in the environment and the quality of life for local residents, especially those living in flats without gardens and those who look to gardening for exercise, recreation, and an extension of their social life.

I will follow progress step-by-step. It may make you look at that piece of derelict land in your own neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Can you envisage beans, potatoes, tomatoes and fruit bushes, instead of those weeds and lager cans?

The next meeting here in Dinas Powys will be held on 18 February at Murchfield Community Hall. I’ll keep you posted.

Further information:
Creative Rural Communities:

Tidy Towns:

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