A community garden brings many positives to a local area, especially for vulnerable people in times of hardship. With food shortages on the rise, what better way to improve the quality of local lives with a community garden. Thats not to say it will not be hard work and there are some important factors to consider:
You will need to identify a piece of suitable land and seek permission. You can contact your Local Authority or seek the permission of a private landowner.
You should have Public Liability Insurance. Visitors, yourself and your organisation/group should be covered for injury and unforeseen circumstances whilst at your site.
You will need to reach out and form a group where, together you can formulate a plan, a budget - look at ways to fundraise and local potential members who may be able to bring different skill sets to help the project moving forward.
Before setting a rigid plan, identify the local need and research what it is your community needs to maximise the benefits for as many people as possible.
Your group members will be voluntary, and you will need to seek some regular commitment for your organisation to make it a success. A well-formed 'committee' should meet regularly to address any issues quickly and to plan ahead.
Spread the word. Get local people involved; from local businesses who may be able to donate supplies, offer labour and skills to local residents who will whole heartedly offer help and advice from keeping accounts to how to grow what and where!
Not only will your established community bring the practical help of fresh produce, but it will bring people together and help with mental well-being, combat loneliness and improve lives physically; getting people more active and spending time outdoors. It will bring a sense of ownership and belonging. A sense of purpose.
Before any work is carried out, risk assessments should be carried out. Some knowledge of what the land has previously been used for and removal of any rubbish and any potential preservation order or disturbance to wildlife. There may be items remaining that could be useful too, such as timber that could be used to build raised beds or a bench.
When it comes to planning how your garden will be laid out, you should be flexible and be open to everybody's views. There are things to consider such as cost, materials required and accessibility. Timescales and the type of works required to reach your goals. Try and start with the basics and not try to do too much too soon.
Remember to factor in the positioning of your site; which direction it faces and how open or sheltered it is too. The soil-type. This will affect what can be grown successfully. Where in proximity is your proposed site? Can local residents easily access it; is it central to your community.
Other factors include facilities such as water supply and whether you will have security, toilet and comfort facilities, storage and so on.
Your group should collectively agree on the purpose of your community garden. Maybe there is a call for more than some vegetable beds; perhaps a sensory garden or wildlife/conservation area. Maybe a memorial garden. Find out what is important to your local community.
The basic layout should be accessible to all; paths should be level, clear and wide enough for wheelchair access. Raised beds are ideal for everyone to pitch in and enjoy growing.
The project; as a whole, can be broken down with mini goals, which can be built on, changed and will naturally evolve with time and regular commitment from your group and the wider community. Development can be made in stages. The key thing is that it is always a safe place and precautions are made if any structural works are being carried out.
Once, you have your basis of a community garden, it would be an idea to work out a rota so that everyone has some responsibility, and the onus is not all on one or a few people. People still have their own lives and commitments, whether that be work, family or holidays booked. Watering and weeding will still need to be done!
Local negative behaviours could also potentially be addressed via your Community Garden. If you have anti-social behaviour issues such as vandalism, reach out and bring them in to your project. Think about why these issues happen and give them the involvement and purpose that could help turn things around.
Always keep recording things that you have collectively achieved as well as things that have not quite worked out. Learn from experience together and evolve your project in a positive way. Keep morale and motivation up too, incentivise people to keep helping, to keep coming to enjoy the garden. It can be lots of fun with competitions and themes.
This project is a really positive step for your local community, your local media will more than likely jump at the chance to help raise awareness with stories, photographs or interviews.
We wish you every success and will love to hear about your Community Garden. Do feel free to post your progress and stories on our Blog Diary section.