As I pledged at the meeting itself I will attempt to refrain from using any puns within these meeting notes – despite a powerful urge to! The latest Walworth CAN meeting saw community growers come from far and wide to discuss their projects and debate the idea of establishing some infrastructure support for a community growing network in the Walworth area (and potentially further afield).
- Helen P - Surrey Gardens TRA
- Jenny Jefferis - Surrey Gardens TRA
- Sue Amos - Glengall Wharf Garden
- Jane Higginbottom - Inspire
- Maria Devereaux - Sustain/Growing Health
- Tinsel Linton
- Meghan Doyle - Notting Hill Housing Group
- Mike Wilson - Pembroke House
- Paul McGann - Grow Elephant
- Izabella Scott
- Oliver Haden - Walworth Garden Farm
- Christina Wheatley - Edible Avondale
- Peter Wright - BAR TRA/Southwark Living Streets
- Debbie Mitchener - Garden Organic
- Diana Banga
- Fausto Llopis - Pembroke House
- Vincent Brown - Pullens TRA
- Charlie Fox - Bermondsey Artists Group
- Sally Scantlebury - Urban Farmer
- Julia Maia - BOST
- Marcela Vielman - Pembroke House/SLAM
- Jeremy Leach - Walworth Society
- Robert Jamieson – Community Southwark
- Clare Chamberlain – Community Southwark
Walworth is the centre of the universe
We kicked off proceedings with a presentation by Jeremy Leach from the Walworth Society in order to provide some context as to why the idea of support was on the table. Jeremy informed us that one of the key priority areas of the Elephant and Walworth Neighbourhood plan was green spaces and food growing. This reflects the wide range of activity already happening in the Walworth area (some of which you will read about shortly) and has led to a growing demand for some kind of coordination.
Jeremy mapped out some of the initiatives (ranging from larger organisations to the work of TRAs and community allotments) and also touched upon efforts to ‘Green Walworth’s Streets’ and create green links throughout the borough.
Jeremy’s main thrust is summed up thusly: there is a lot of interest in community growing and lots of activity taking place – not to mention the high level of need as community/green spaces begin to dwindle across Southwark. But… there is little co-ordination or an overview of what is taking place, there is little practical support and advice on offer, and, as we have seen on several occasions, initiatives can peter out.
So, we had come questions to ask which leads us onto the main event…
An animated and productive discussion took place during the second half of the meeting that focused on several questions that came out of Jeremy's presentation - see above.
- Knowledge of gardening – need to map out how it will work. Can’t keep planting beans!
- Any network would need to keep a database of information of groups and initiatives that is readily accessible (by website etc) and require someone to co-ordinate/update it. But this can’t just rely on one person (who needs to be paid!). There needs to be a structure in place that facilitates and incentivises volunteering.
- This paid person could potentially provide developmental support to groups and organisations – whether in the guise of administrative support or with funding applications. Smaller groups with less capacity often struggle with this or simply don’t have the time. ‘Constantly chasing small pots of money.’
- Bigger groups/alliances could be encouraged to bid together for funding. The network co-ordinator could help facilitate this. They would also be able to offer support with any monitoring or evaluation that is needed.
- There is currently a lack of channels to get information out between groups and to the wider public.
- Southwark has a high density of council housing and, as a result, has over 100 TRAs. Many of these are affiliated to Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO) so we need to think about developing a relationship with SGTO and exploiting their links to tenants organisations.
- Any Walworth initiative could be held up as a local pilot for other areas in the borough to mimic (such as Peckham or Canada Water). Whilst local hubs are necessary or welcome it would also be helpful to have some kind of Southwark-wide host (like Incredible Edible) and has to be independent of existing place and space.
Starting Up – Getting Residents Involved
- Getting information to Southwark residents about what is going on is the first hurdle to overcome.
- How do we encourage people to take part initially? Residents may need help. Vulnerable groups will need extra support – where does this come from? Do we rely on the larger initiatives such as Walworth Garden? Or at least learn from their engagement model?
- It seems obvious but the more people that are encouraged to be involved in local projects, the more longer term sustainability is achieved.
- It is important to keep up with societal changes – especially the change in attitudes to volunteering.
- People are unaware or do not know about green spaces or how to access them - 'Can I do that there?' As a result there is a fear of accessing space and a lack of awareness as to who owns what.
- It is vital that there is a concerted effort to protect the spaces that the community has taken over – this needs to involve some input from Southwark council. After all, the benefits of community-led growing initiatives fall in line with many policies that Southwark espouses in terms of health and social care. The same can be said of Southwark Clinical Commissioning group. It makes sense for them to be on board!
- The celebratory element of food should be highlighted – it brings together people from all cultures.
- Southwark has a disproportionately high use of food banks use – food growing can alleviate this.
- Any funding bid would need to acknowledge what volunteers can do.
- It needs to be established exactly what any paid role would entail.
- It will be hard to get funding for a network so any bid would need to demonstrate the huge demand/need.
- More funding is needed for physical infrastructure.
- There is a current lack of funding support for admin and prep work for existing groups.
- There should be a mapping/celebratory initiative that covers the whole borough to highlight everything that is already going on.
- There is already a burgeoning network of Southwark growers.
As you can see there is an awful lot of food for thought. We will feedback the results of any bid in the coming weeks and months.
I've tried to capture most of the discussion but I'm sure that I've missed a few things. Feel free to get in touch if there is anything glaringly obvious!
So what's going on?
Before the main discussion we heard from several projects from across the borough – a taster menu if you like!
Glengall Wharf Garden is a community garden at the east end of Burgess Park on the Surrey Canal Walk
It offers a wide range of projects for local residents. Their flagship project is 'Herb Tuesdays' - a gardening project aimed at improving our overall wellbeing, both mental and physical, through a wide range of activities.
Like many projects they would love to open more but they do hold regular events and celebrations and welcome everyone to help develop this beautiful space for the benefit of local people and visitors
They are looking forward to hosting GrowFest – a celebration of growing, community and gardening in Southwark which wil take place on May 6th. More details here.
You can find out more about the garden by visiting their website here.
Bankside Open Spaces Trust was set up in 2000 by a group of local people with an aim to improve the Bankside area, making it greener and a more beautiful place to live and work.
There are a surprising amount of green spaces in such a built up area and they now look after over 45 individual parks and gardens.
There are too many projects and initiatives to list and there are several ways in which local residents can get involved – all of which you can view here. A personal highlight of mine is BOST's stewardship of the Crossbones Graveyard Garden.
One of their key area of focus is their community green champions project and they are currently looking for keen local residents to get involved in the care, design and development of local green spaces. For more information email Julia on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7403 3393.
Walworth Garden is a unique charity dedicated to changing lives through horticulture.
The garden has been a focus point for community growing in Walworth for nearly 30 years. They run a horticultural training centre which provides support for people to get back into employment. This focuses on a wide range of skills including creating, designing and constructing gardens and is free for Southwark residents.
They are open 7 days a week and have a garden centre which is open until 9pm in the summer.
They are currently planning a 30th birthday celebration that will take place in July which will centre on a vegetarian communal eat – watch this space!
For more information visit their website.
Gardening for All – Pullens TRA
The Gardening for All project arose from discussions within the Pullens Gardening Club about how to best support gardeners with additional needs. As a result, the gardening club asked Walworth Garden to help draw up a simple, short checklist of things that gardening groups could do in order to encourage and support people who have additional needs – whether they be elderly or frail, the visually or hearing impaired, people needing additional learning support or have special mobility needs.
The project culminated in the 'Gardening for All' event at Walworth Garden where the local community came together for a day of Harvest Festival fun and discussion on how to involve and support additional needs gardeners, attended by over 60 local residents.
For more info contact Vince Brown: email@example.com
Grow Elephant's mission is to help communities across Elephant and Castle and Walworth with improving the quality of our local environment. They run gardening clubs with local TRAs and schools, and are happy to help any local residents who need some advice about getting a gardening project going on their own street or estate.
Their main hub is Grow Elephant Community Garden on New Kent Road, where they organise regular gardening workshops, volunteering sessions, and propogate plants for use on our projects across Elephant and Castle. The garden is also an important social space for the local community and we host
They also host a range of events, organised both by ourselves and other community groups, from film screenings, to talks and live music.
If anyone would like more support in getting connected or developing ideas and initiatives please contact a member of our team: firstname.lastname@example.org