A Big Dig in the Growing Gap

Every grass roots movement finds itself pulled in two directions: mucking in vs. wider coordination; hands on vs. strategy. Birmingham’s many community growing projects find themselves getting on with the former, and not so much of the latter.

An emphasis on one direction over the other leaves us with gaps: gaps in communication, gaps in in getting things done, gaps in sustaining a project. For example, at this point, the communication gap means that we don’t even know how many Birmingham groups there are!

These can include social housing and residential garden clubs, community farms, gardens and orchards, Gro-Fun schemes, gardening projects for people with vulnerabilities, and, of course, allotments. As there’s no gazetteer, no citywide survey of who’s doing what, no information gathering, we are less successful individually than we might be together.

The gap between mucking in and strategic activity shows up in other ways too.

  • There’s a gap in coordination: no group that helps develop partnerships, identifies resources, and campaigns on our behalf.
  • There’s a gap in the big picture: no citywide mission, no charter or strategic goal to aim for.
  • There’s a gap in participation: most people don’t know opportunities exist, don’t know where to go for information and support.

And there’s that very big gap between what is, and what could be.

But today, thanks to the Big Dig and some inspired locals, that growing gap is starting to close.

The Big Dig is a scheme aimed at promoting sharing and volunteering among community garden projects. It’s running in London, Brighton, Coventry, Manchester, Middlesborough & Sheffield. Early results show it helping to raise the profile of community gardening. In turn, that means greater local communication, and may lead to wider participation in strategic activities.

Ladywood resident Chris Blythe (of North Summerfield Residents Association Grow Site on Coplow Street) canvassed city organisations and food growing groups about their interest in the Big Dig project. Following on from discussions by email, at farmer’s markets and community horticulture centres, representatives of six strategy-focused organisations were able to meet, identify common goals and plan next steps.

All agreed that the Big Dig could be a very useful vehicle for coordinating something low-key among Birmingham’s growing groups, whilst creating space for further discussion of priorities. From that, Chris, and Clare Savage of the Urban Veg project at Winterbourne have taken on the immediate tasks of coordinating Birmingham’s response to the Big Dig and chairing development of a city-wide umbrella group.

If your group or organisation has wondered how to manage any of the wider issues around growing food as a community activity, please contact Chris or Clare with your interest. Likewise, if you are interested in the Big Dig, ask for details of the January introductory session.

Chris email
Clare at the Urban Veg Hub email
Sustain’s Big Dig

One Response to A Big Dig in the Growing Gap

  1. Jan Tchamani says:

    We’re delighted to be part of this even though we’re small and new to urban gardening and our tomatoes were not fit to be seen this year! We’re a sheltered housing estate in Kings Heath for ‘vulnerable older persons’ (sic): two blocks on Grove Rd by the Red Lion: Brandwood House and Cocksmoor House. We have a huge area of green that was just begging to be beautified! Started last Feb, harvested herbs and veg in late summer to make communal soup and herb focaccia, just had a Jubilee tree hedge donated by the Woodland Trust planted for us yesterday by fab Community Payback team! I’m the project co-ord here but my husband does the heavy digging… All the best with this initiative from all of us on the Residents’ Assoc Committee, Jan


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