myland.scot
myland.scot

An Interview with Project Manager Concrete Garden – Moira Ann McCaig

Concrete Garden is an urban community food growing, play and wellbeing project providing growing space, activities, events and volunteering opportunities for the people of Possilpark and the wider North Glasgow area.


How did the idea of using land for the community first come about?

Our flagship garden at St Matthew’s Centre in Possilpark came about by chance really, a network meeting between local and Glasgow wide green space projects was held in 2009. We went forward from the principle this was something our community was missing. It soon became clear what was started as a small community growing project had the potential to become a charity in its own right. We worked towards this and became a standalone charity by May 2013. 

That same year the idea for our second community garden behind the Possilpark Health and Care Centre took shape: we had a waiting list for plots and referrals into our social gardening sessions and were thinking of ways to expand to support and meet this need.  

Having a community involved and engaged prior to the build – who had their ideas and thoughts incorporated into the design from the offset – meant we had a community who felt empowered to voice their needs and wishes with confidence they would be heard and actioned. This community empowerment led to suggestions to create a play area for plot holder and garden user children, making use of the smaller, hilly/tree lined space in the Garden. 

Three volunteers worked with our community development lead, conducting a wider community engagement project. This work gave us the evidence needed to gain a Stalled Spaces grant to commence a participatory design project with The City of Play – bringing in loose parts play equipment, learning from observing the kids themselves, and designing the final play area following these observations. Following an Integrated Grant Award for the construction throughout 2015-2016, Back Garden Play was launched.

The vacant land adjacent to our current site has been  classed as a Derelict Urban Site since 2000 or Earlier (DUSTE) by the Scottish Land Commission. We have started investigating the possibility of an Asset Transfer or negotiated sale for both the Back Garden site and the vacant site adjacent as they are both owned by Jobs and Business Glasgow; the children want a bigger adventure playground, with space to climb, run, swing, eat and relax. 

The garden infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifespan – it needs to be redesigned and rebuilt to continue to meet the needs of existing and new residents in our community. As an organisation our ambition is to meet the existing and emerging needs of our community, and become more sustainable. We are looking at the possibility of income generation streams through the creation of an outdoor early years and afterschool hub on the new adventure playground site. Over the next five years we hope as a community we can bring these plans to life. A community owned, community led, adventure playground and garden.

How important is it that people take an active interest in the land around them in their community? 

I think the question is more ‘how important it is that we inform and support our community, so they understand that the land around them is not just someone’s else’s spare ground.’ We do not need to wait for private developers or housing to do something with spare land. We can use our collective voice to work towards positive outcomes for social and economic development, environmental management and restoration of stalled spaces.  

We need a culture shift; for community led regeneration to become a first thought. I hope in Possilpark the recent success from Possilpark People’s Trusts will be the start of a step-change in how our community sees community spaces and derelict land.

What benefits have you seen from the change in the land?

This is a hard one to quantify – we focus on capturing the change in people. This change comes over time from the activities and outputs following work on the land, alongside the connections, capacity and skills people take with them. 

Projects like ours make a real difference by creating opportunities that build on these strengths, supporting people to feel more empowered in their ability to improve the wellbeing of their community and themselves.

 Over the last 10 years we have: 

  • Embedded therapeutic gardening, urban food growing and outdoor play into community life in Possilpark. 
  • Increased the availability of and access to vibrant outdoor play spaces and gardens where people can work, learn, play and grow together.
  • Created opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy outdoor therapeutic, self-care and wellbeing activities. 
  • Provided opportunities for people of all ages to gain new skills and experiences. 
  • Established dignified food provision in our community 
  • Advanced community empowerment through co-production- participatory budgeting and community led action. 
  • Created employment opportunities in the community development sector. 

This last year was very different with most of our face-to-face work paused due to covid – we had 87 plot holders come in for 1-2-1 session support, just over 50% responded to our March 2021 survey.  

By supporting safe access to the gardens through the pandemic, people were able to keep reaping many of the usual benefits of the gardens. 

  • 90% told us they benefited from the exercise of getting out into the garden. 
  • 80% said getting out of the house helped with their mental wellbeing. 
  • 90% said access to the garden helped them feel connected to the garden community despite not getting to participate in our usual group sessions or events. 

“It’s been great during this lockdown to still have a safe place to go and have some normality in the back garden. Wee J has loved seeing our crops grow and watching them from planting seeds to harvesting… it takes your mind off all the worry and stress of the Covid-19.”

What advice would you give anyone who follows in your footsteps? 

Resilience is your reward for setbacks and challenges. We have had more setbacks and challenges over the 10 years than success. Sometimes the best things have come from something that didn’t go to plan, like when someone set fire to our shed – rather than demolish it, the community growers decided to turn it into a chicken coop! Or when Covid stopped all garden sessions and we found the time and space to build a solar-powered hot water station and garden charging point, ideas we had had for years without time or capacity.

“Possilpark is a small community with limited outdoor spaces where people can come together, meet new people and learn new skills. Our volunteers, community gardeners and participants have a long history of using land which was lying derelict and bringing it back to life through direct community led action. The opportunities for land in communities are endless. When we pull together, real change can happen. Projects like ours make a real difference because we support people to find a sense of self, and to feel empowered in their own ability to improve their community and themselves.” 

 

MyLand.scot