Community gardens and city farms are extremely flexible and adapt to the changing demands of the local community. What they have in common is encouragement of social participation and the creation of sustainable communities, through:
• the creation and management of community – managed green space.
• individual development – by giving people opportunities to take part in many situations, from learning to grow their own food and meeting people, to undertaking a management role.
• social inclusion and cohesion – by being accessible to people from many different backgrounds and offering people who are isolated ways to extend their networks.
• strengthening and regenerating urban and other communities – by enabling people to get involved in community activities. Such involvement fosters pride and identification within a local community, which encourages people to participate in public affairs.
Through social participation, community gardens and city farms can help people learn new skills and gain self-confidence. Access is free which reinforces their integrative potential.
Bradford City Farm
A project working with young people, especially from the Asian community, showing the benefits of farming and growing.
‘You don’t have to be sitting behind a desk,’ says Manager, Rob Dark, ‘to learn something that’ll prove useful in later life! We do a lot of work with young people, including those excluded from school, and have developed a successful "work-readiness" programme for final year students. There are many links between farming and growing and the National Curriculum, and local schools are regular visitors.’
The project also provides placements for longterm unemployed people and adults with special needs; helps with community planting and garden design; and sells produce at the local farmers’ market.
Heeley City Farm, Sheffield
A project in a deprived inner city area employing 34 staff, supporting up to 100 volunteers, and welcoming around 100 000 adult visitors a year.
‘The driving force here,’ says David Gray of Heeley City Farm, ‘is our commitment to supporting those most in need in our community. We offer day care and training for people with learning disabilities, and NVQs in horticulture, agriculture, basic skills and English as another language. And each year we provide environmental, food and health-related education to 5000 school children.’
I think our greatest achievement is employment of local people. 83 per cent of our staff were formerly unemployed and 60 per cent of them live within one mile of the farm.’
The project is also a founder member of Heeley Development Trust and Sheffield Environmental Training, which together employ 60 people. This led on to their involvement in the creation of the new Heeley Millennium Park.
New projects in the pipeline include devoting 20 hectares to growing food for the local economy, and a partnership with Sheffield Black Community Forum, working with groups on local issues and involving ethnic minority groups in environmental projects.
Projects contribute directly to community development by generating social participation, and promoting urban regeneration through providing:
• additional green space in the urban environment
• a ‘gateway’ into both informal and formal educational opportunities
• local education about food growing and caring for animals
• adult education in a wide range of subjects, e. g. gardening, horticulture, animal husbandry, English as a second language, computer skills
• school visits and educational activities
• pre school activities
• play facilities and sports facilities
• after school and holiday play schemes
• placements for people with learning difficulties and other special needs
• community allotments and community orchards
• community enterprise development and training, e. g. cafes, horse riding lessons, garden centre activities, community businesses.
They appeal to a wide range of people and can create opportunities for disadvantaged and minority groups. They can also generate local economic activity and community businesses.
Community activity is the hallmark of city farming and community gardening projects, and it is fundamental to promoting well functioning and sustainable communities. This in turn will lead to the development of a greater confidence and skills base within a local community – social participation leads directly to the growth of social capital, that is, the ability of a community to take an interest in and to shape its own future.
Welbeck Road Allotments Association Trust, Derbyshire
Derelict allotments have become a showcase for urban regeneration.
‘It all started with a hedge!’ says Manager, Mike Gosnell. ‘Plotholders were demoralised by the activities of thieves and petty vandals, and decided that a hedge might keep troublemakers out. We applied for Local Agenda 21 funding, employed a hedge-layer, and enlisted local children to help. The Council was very impressed with the results.’
Now they have a hazel coppice, a clubhouse, and a wildlife pond where a tip used to be. They are planting an orchard, setting up a community polytunnel and planning many other projects.
They have won local awards, and have received much publicity.
‘From feeling powerless and dependent on the council, we’ve become proactive. We initiate ideas and get funding from a number of sources. We’ve transformed the threat of vandalism into the regeneration of the site.’