The greatest need that projects have, especially when they are starting out, is local political support through committee and officer time: a clear sign that the project is valued and welcomed. Projects need clear support mechanisms through the council to develop a genuine partnership. This will help greatly with forward planning, credibility, and identifying funding needs.
Local authorities can also help by identifying land and making it available for a new project at a low rent. Needless to say, projects may also need financial assistance, particularly to help in the longer-term stability of a project.
Although difficult to quantify, local authorities should recognise the social participation and ‘community benefits’ that these projects bring: it is not simply a question of profit and loss, and subsidies may be seen to bring benefits far in excess of the financial grant.
Wellgate Community Farm, Romford
A small suburban project, this is a resource for everyone in the local community.
‘It’s all about including people,’ says Manager, Rob Gayler, ‘providing a "growing space” for groups and individuals. People come to the farm because they want to work with animals, but they stay because of the people. Visitors are welcome but the emphasis is on involvement, and we have volunteers of all ages.’
The project offers training for adults with special needs and has a horticultural therapy team for people recovering from mental illness. They work with youngsters who are non-attenders or excluded from school, and many of them go on to further training and employment.
Schools are encouraged to visit the farm, and the farm visits local schools! ‘Sometimes it’s easier to move the animals than the children,’ says Rob, ‘so we take them in the horsebox and meet the children on the school field!’
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The value of social participation through city farms, community gardens and other related community – led growing projects has never been better understood by policy makers. We can therefore look forward to a gradual growth in their provision, and hopefully in a recognition that they provide a valuable local service which needs proper capital and revenue funding. If every school child could be introduced to the concepts of sustainable food growing, and every town has access to a city farm or community garden, we would be getting somewhere. That vision may be some way off, but it is a vision we will work towards.