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The Back Garden

PORTFOLIO CASE STUDY

CREATION of a vibrant community vegetable growing garden comprising five 17ft raised growing beds; a 20ft polytunnel; a 16.5ft greenhouse (made from recycled 2lt plastic bottles) and a toolshed within a derelict inner city tenement backcourt.

  • Project Launch: 12 January 2010
  • Official Opening: 26 June 2011
  • Funding: Climate Challenge Fund (CCF); Partick Housing Association and Housing and Regeneration Fund (HAR)
  • Glasgow City Council Anderston Area Committee
  • Sanctuary Housing Association
  • Supporters: Glasgow West Housing Association; West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership; MAST Architects, Yorkhill, Glasgow: Alex Butter Landscaping

IN JANUARY 2010, the backcourts of flats at Brechin Street in west central Glasgow’s Anderston district, were an eyesore – derelict, and a favourite haunt of fly-tippers (above, left). Burned-out cars rubbed shoulders with discarded mattresses.

Today this self-contained area, overlooked by 120 homes, is a thriving community garden enjoying seasonal rich harvests of fruit and vegetables (above, right). The bounty has included peas, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, cabbages, kale, courgettes, mint, parsley, curry leaf, strawberries and raspberries.

But the real fruits of success here have been less tangible. Friendships have blossomed. Neighbours, even from adjoining properties who had never spoken, now share advice on pruning and planting out. Gardening enthusiasts from farther afield in Anderston have made The Back Garden their own and enjoy its relaxed amenity simply as a place to meet. There are now more than 20 members of the G3 Growers group and over 100 volunteers and participants to share the feeding, watering and weeding.

The transition from coup to community garden delivered a crop of other benefits too. Annexe Communities (AC), which initiated and facilitated the project, ran healthy cookery, energy efficiency and composting workshops throughout the area as well as publishing a gardening reference book distributed free to all who participated. It remains a huge hit.

This project was born out of two years of dedicated community support within the Anderston district of west central Glasgow by Annexe Communities (AC - formerly Partick Community Association) which had established a local base in a vacant shop unit at the Shaftsbury St piazza.

AC deployed full-time development worker Sandra MacDowell to Anderston in 2007. She was instrumental in establishing both the local G3 Action Group and latterly a formal community council. MacDowell identified that the absence of any form of community centre in the area was acting as a barrier to breaking down some of the fundamental social issues of inequality, lack of opportunity and high unemployment.

She recalls: ‘No-one knew anyone else or what anyone else in the area was doing. It was barren. It was clear we needed a focal point, something that could act as a catalyst and help people locally realise they can change their own circumstances.’

Outside the window of The Anderston Annexe lay the Piazza, the vacant concrete roof of the underground parking at the Shaftsbury Street multi-storey flat blocks. McDowall saw in its bleak emptiness, the opportunity to sow the seeds of change.

AC developed a plan for a community vegetable growing allotment in the Piazza supported by the Sanctuary Housing Association, and submitted an application to the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) for financial backing. The plan was approved in April 2010 with a
grant for £100,193. Two months later, the project was underway.

Within weeks, however, there was a major setback. Structural engineering reports established that the concrete pillars of the underground garage at the Piazza, might not support the extra weight of the planting containers, wet soil and the rest of the project equipment. Remedial work was outside the budget.

Undaunted, MacDowell and AC, now working against CCF fulfilment deadlines, identified an alternative location and with the support of Glasgow West Housing Association (GWHA) secured the Brechin Street site.

Months of work by Annexe Communities followed during which we –

  • Nurtured the creation of a G3 Growers Group from within the community to take charge of the garden and its future
  • Drafted and negotiated a 15-year occupancy agreement with GWHA
  • Secured helpful architects
  • Obtained planning approval
  • Recruited a sessional gardener
  • Appointed contractors for the construction
  • Ran cookery, energy efficiency and composting workshops
  • Secured one full-time job for a year, a part-time gardener for launch, and contract work for local architects and solicitors.

CCF funding was concluded by March 2011 and the garden was fully operational by May. It was under budget, but all agree the benefits will outweigh the savings for years to come.

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