The Community Gardens Beyond Communities programme is part by the Scottish University Insight Institutes (SUII) programme of knowledge exchange. The programme brought together a range of community workers, activists and academics, involved in community gardens and community food growing projects.
We partnered with projects around the world from Fife and Dundee in Scotland, to Brazil, Nepal, Mexico, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. I lead the project, working with Dr Fernando Fernandes, both from Community Education at the University of Dundee, and Dr Nina Morris from the University of Edinburgh.
The partners exchanged research knowledge, as well as examples of good practice which have had a positive impact in local communities. The focus was on the connection of community gardens and community food growing with wider issues of climate change, urban space and the rights to the city. All the projects involved produced short 5 minute films and presentations for a series of monthly seminars,
Projects involved in the programme had:
- reclaimed land within their communities as collective means of production,
- questioned land distribution/policy,
- raised awareness of the distribution of resources,
- increased food security and
- fought for the recognition of the importance of communally accessible greenspace dedicated to gardening and food production.
The projects focused on behaviour and attitudinal changes, personal development, and human rights. There was a focus on ‘shared community’ in community gardens, bringing diverse people together including different generations to share knowledge and learn from each other.
The programme demonstrated what can be achieved by community activists and their role in encouraging and enabling others to change behaviours and attitudes at a local level to achieve the sustainable development goals. We learnt that community garden and food growing experiences were a trigger for dialogue to stimulate critical awareness and the political areas of opportunity that can influence behaviour change.
The lessons we learnt were,
- Community gardens as spaces for dialogue, enabling people to share knowledge, expertise and experiences
- The importance of drawing on local resources including generational skills and utilising and sharing knowledge that was already in the community but might have been forgotten.
- The sharing and development of permaculture techniques suited to the local environment with a ‘no waste’ ethos.
- Encouraging and enabling people to get involved in local events linked to community mobilisation and wider community action linked to land ownership, climate change and urbanisation.
- The importance of working with children to (re)connect them to nature. Children were seen as the gateway to working with families and the wider community.
- The role of women in local communities and the projects’ role in empowering women in the community and enabling economic, political, and social autonomy.
Our partnerships also helped to build community cohesion and well-being and the role of community gardens and food growing in combating social isolation, food insecurity and socioeconomic inequalities particularly during the Covid 19 pandemic.
The primary beneficiaries of the programme were the community activists, gardeners and families who are working alongside the wider community to address climate change and related challenges in towns and cities. The programme was driven by their experiences and voices and enabled the sharing of wider practice knowledge, academic research, and international examples of good practice.
As a result of the programme, experiences in Scotland have become more inclusive of diverse voices, giving local community gardens opportunities to connect local issues with wider urban/global issues in a more meaningful way. The programme has offered kinship with like-minded people working in a variety of international contexts.
We hope that we have also mobilised participants to think of community gardens beyond local resources that are traditionally associated with outcomes such as ‘mental wellbeing’ and ‘community cohesion’. Although these are relevant, the programme demonstrated that community gardens have an unlocked potential and national and international experiences provided meaningful insights that will help reshape the way community gardens operate and are considered by policy makers and social activists.
For me the project was inspirational, and it was a great opportunity to build partnerships with other countries. I will be visiting some of the projects in Nepal in September to learn more about how they continue to respond locally to the challenges of climate change.
If you would like to hear more about the Community Gardens Beyond Communities project, please contact Jenny Glen at email@example.com or on 01382 381447.
Lecturer and Practice Learner Convenor
BA Community Education
School of Education and Social Work, University of Dundee