Polbeth and West Calder Community Garden
OCOF supported Polbeth & West Calder Community Garden to develop a derelict five-acre site in West Lothian into a community garden for the benefit of the local community and to increase awareness and understanding of how to grow their own food.
Polbeth and West Calder Community Garden (PWCCG) grew out of the interest of a small number of local residents in a piece of derelict land near the former mining towns of Polbeth and West Calder in West Lothian. In previous years, the piece of land had been used as a market garden and to support individuals involved in the criminal justice system. It had formerly been run by a voluntary organisation supporting young people with learning difficulties. However, at the time of the group forming in 2011, it had not been used for around five or so years and had become derelict and overgrown.
Two of the group's founding members had been involved in research and other work related to the derelict site and had a keen interest in the environment, sustainability and growing food locally. The fledgling group started to make contact with a range of organisations with view to developing the potential of the site, including the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to find out more about what was happening elsewhere, and other community gardens (e.g. Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Perth, Armadale), and to tap into training opportunities
They also made connections more locally through an initiative supported by the Health Improvement Team in West Lothian. A West Lothian Food Group had been established and the group made a presentation which was received well and were given key contacts within the Council to speak with about the site.
Through speaking with other local residents and parents about their idea to develop a community garden and growing food locally, and through connecting with local school initiatives, etc, the group grew to twelve committee members. The general feeling was that there was “a lot of interest and goodwill” towards bringing the community garden back into use, and a number of other local people were interested in more of the practical, manual labour roles once they get on site.
Growth and development
Some community consultation was undertaken, with the group linking in with other gala days and fun days organised locally. This centred on gauging people's interest in the community garden and hearing their ideas for it.
The group then made contact with the Council to register their interest in acquiring the site, with the Council eventually approving their application to lease the land during the summer for a nominal fee of £1 per year. However, the details of the contract had then to be negotiated, as well as how the group could use the land until the contract had been formally agreed.
Prior to seeking support through the OCOF Programme, the group felt that they had come to a “bit of lull” in their discussions with the Council and were not clear on the best way forward. There was also a sense that lots had been going on but that a somewhat “scattergun” approach had been adopted. This led to the group becoming constituted and approaching the SCF for support through the OCOF Programme.
The group began working with the SCF in November 2011, with the initial support revolving around a number of facilitated group sessions. These focussed on where the group is at, where it wants to go, priorities, identifying key stakeholders that the group needed to engage with, strategic planning and risks. Some pointers were also given on the business plan that the group had prepared, and a small amount of funding was received as part of OCOF.
Their SCF mentor helped organise two open days in May 2012 in Polbeth and West Calder in which over 80 local people attending in total. OCOF also began to assist the group in changing its governance arrangements, as the group wanted to become a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations (SCIO) to satisfy Council requirements. The group received additional advice from a solicitor, Business Gateway and SCVO in relation to this.
PWCCG has now not only gained control over the land, but is well on the way to turning the site into the buzzing community garden the group envisioned. The 'Garden for Life' currently hosts a range of activities from gardening sessions to Green Gyms. Moreover, the members have managed to acquire a building on the site which is now a hub for the garden and its visitors. The group is now looking into improving this facility, including installing a wood burner and improving the electricity supply.
The group has established a trading arm, Trade for Life, selling produce grown on site and also dry goods (e.g. pulses, etc) to help generate income.
A particular area of success has been with regard to raising awareness of the garden and engaging local people around its development. PWCCG has managed to have its work spotlighted as the cover story in TCV magazine and by the local MSP on Radio Scotland. Attendance at PWCCG meetings has been growing steadily over the course of OCOF support, and the group has a strong online presence, with its own website and social media sites.
In terms of the difference OCOF's support has made, the groups has stated that the main benefits were:
- achieving a greater focus;
- helping the group to develop as a “group” – better able to share tasks, etc among more people, shared responsibility and ownership for getting things done;
- becoming clearer on goals and priorities;
- increased self-belief;
- renewed focus and energy;
- being better able to see things differently; and
- having time to reflect on what has been achieved so far has been useful – as it “is easy to lose sight” of how far the group has come.
Lessons and learning
Some learning points from the group's progress through OCOF are:
- The group found the OCOF support a positive experience and would recommend it to others. PWCCG may be a relatively resourceful and dynamic group, but OCOF support has helped it to overcome external and internal challenges.
- Foundation Scotland staff (who delivered OCOF) were able to draw on their experience on working with other groups challenge the group and help them consider new ideas/possibilities.
- Despite the group's good relationship with Foundation Scotland there was a sense that the change in staff personnel during the support caused some anxiety for the group.
- The group mentioned that they would have found it more helpful if a critique had been undertaken of the business plan rather than some general pointers.
- Although the group valued meeting other local groups, sharing experiences and learning with others, it felt that shared learning with similar social enterprises and SCIOs would be more beneficial than meeting with groups on the basis that they were close geographically.
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