When I retired, I was keen to pursue my interest in community gardening. I was delighted to see FoodFutures running workshops on Growing Food and Community. I signed up and made my way to Claver Hill for the first session: processing and preserving produce.  

I have to admit, I rarely eat chutney or jam and the workshop didn’t convert me, but what a fabulous afternoon! The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming and we all got stuck in chopping fruit and veg. At the end of the session, we were given a tour of Claver Hill: long rows of thriving vegetable beds, fruit trees, polytunnels, a nature trail, a flood-management scheme and a compost toilet. This is community gardening on a grand scale. Learning about how the project is run and what it has achieved has been hugely inspiring.  

In the second session we were introduced to permaculture design. The importance of surveying your site before leaping into gardening was emphasised, and the first of many lightbulb moments. One of the projects I’m involved in has been waiting for several years to get access to land. Here was something to do while waiting – record the sunny spots, frost pockets and prevailing winds. 

The next session was ‘working with community’, for me probably the most challenging aspect of community gardening. How to be welcoming and inclusive, how to survive disagreements and confrontations? 

Two things inspired me about the people I met at Claver Hill, their acceptance of difference and their ability to transform difficulties into opportunities. We were introduced to exciting-sounding resources such as The Empowerment Manual, Dragon Dreaming and Sociocracy. Having finally escaped the shadow of dis-empowerment that haunted the lower rungs of the hierarchical organisations where I had worked, I was heartened to see a collaborative working policy has been implemented successfully at Claver Hill.

We also got the opportunity to visit The Plot, LESS’s fabulous organic market garden, where we learnt about plant propagation, pest and weed management, crop harvesting and community composting.

The people I met at the workshops were equally inspiring. They brought their passion for gardening and their commitment to supporting their community.

Now it’s my turn to take up the challenge – what can I do? Well, we’ve started with some bramble clearing and we now have a network of paths to help us get acquainted with our plot of land.


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