As background, there’s an attractive 38 page Lewisham guide to creating a community garden, with lots of nice photos
which can be downloaded here -http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/SiteCollecti ... sGuide.pdf– with “Love Lewisham / Love growing your own food” as you can see on the cover.
In the forward, the Mayor writes:
The message coming from this is a bit confused – the front cover seems to focus on growing food, while the Mayor’s focus seems to be on getting groups of citizens to help the Council make the most of its resources. The reference to allotments is interesting, because it seems to exclude allotments which are not self-managed, and while there are a few references to allotments in the rest of the guide, there is no reference to what an allotment is – e.g. a plot where one or more tenants do the work on it and collect the produce subject to various terms and conditions – e.g. this standard agreement used by my allotments. http://www.khlga.com/index.php?option=c ... icle&id=59We also have a huge number of local people actively involved in helping us
make the most out of our facilities. We have park-user groups, civic societies, citizens running allotments and a whole range of other ways for people to get involved.
Community gardens offer local residents the opportunity to get together with their neighbours and friends to grow their own food, flowers and plants on an area of unused land.
Over recent years, a number of highly successful community gardens have sprung up across the borough adding to the wide variety of opportunities for citizens to actively engage in their communities. This is real community empowerment – local people coming together to create something which is sustainable, adds to the environment and makes good use of our natural resources. I would be delighted to see more of these gardens flourishing in Lewisham.
Community Gardens are defined in the guide as “unique, locally managed pieces of land that are developed in response to the needs of the communities in which they are based.” - which seems a bit woolly to me. On the other hand, if “in response to the needs of the communities” is taken to mean responding to a formal request from six of more people to set up allotments under the terms of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, then it becomes a bit clearer.
On the basis of contributors to Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_ ... ed_Kingdom- Community Gardens in the UK are generally seen as distinct from allotments. However, they do acknowledge that “there are an increasing number of community-managed allotments, which may include allotment plots and a community garden area.” Shameless plug again, but if you want to see what this might refer in practice, come to my allotments Open Day, May 22.
But to remove any doubt – these are allotments, and benefit from the clarity which our terms and conditions for tenants require. I’d have no problem if someone chose to call them ‘community gardens’, and would urge any policy maker wanting to promote community gardens to find out how such clarity help develop an intangible but real community spirit.
The Lewisham guide also asks “Why grow your own food?” and answers by saying to build communities, help the environment and improve individual health by taking more exercise, and eating more nutritious food.
I agree with about half of this. In practice when people do grow more of their own food, it tends to “build communities”, because it gets them (us) outside in the open air, and contacts with other members of the community just happen naturally. To the extent growing food requires organisations such as self-managed allotment committees, it “build communities” all the more directly. But of course the same could be said of any sort of gardening – growing roses or sweet-peas for example – or even non-gardening open air activities such as playing football or cricket. The arguments about helping the environment in the Lewisham guide by reduced dependence on non-renewable resources I find a bit dubious – certainly the most efficient modern commercial growers – “Thanet Earth” http://www.thanetearth.com/ - have arguments to the contrary.
I suspect in practice it will come down to whether having an allotment / being involved in a community garden leads people to make more or less use of fossil fuels in their daily life. If it means someone spends time locally, having walked or cycled there instead of driving off somewhere, or taking a flight to some exotic Caribbean location, then I suspect it does benefit the environment. But again, growing roses would do just as well, and with roses, there’s sometimes less reason to waste expensively treated water on them, or sprinkle slug pellets to protect them.
My own experience is that it is simply the gardening that matters, and that to try to push gardening as a way of “building communities” is counter-productve – it is better to guide people who want to garden to the minimum practical, tried and tested way of organising it – e.g. allotments – and let those among them who want to get involved in the organising of it do so. Most people aren’t interested in being on committees, but do want to know where they stand, and for them clear rights and some kind of explicit agreement with responsibilities is important. They should be encouraged to just to get on with the healthy open air business of gardening, not put off in any way.
Nor should they be told to grow vegetables – and in fact the trend with allotments until recently has been towards calling them ‘Leisure Gardens’, as with my allotments, which are all the better not only for the attractive flowering areas, but that individuals are encouraged to be free.
But I would not over stress traditional allotments, because there are many areas which would benefit from some gardening which are never going to be suitable as allotments – e.g. the gardens of private houses and estates. To get such spaces gardened, there are two main requirements:
- More people who know what gardening involves – which is perhaps a reason for urban local authorities to encourage young people to take on allotments as a way of helping them learn about developing the experience for gardening professionally, in the same way rural councils have small holdings to help people into farming. It is also a reason for supporting gardening course put on by Community Education Lewisham - http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/EducationAnd ... rospectus/; and
- A secure legal basis for any arrangements whereby people cultivate space other than their own gardens – e.g. other people’s gardens. Allotment terms and conditions – which is I believe legally a ‘licence to occupy’ rather than a legal tenancy - provide a starting point for this, and is the basis – documented only in emails - for my own cultivation of some of my neighbours’ garden