Why community gardens thrive in the Square Mile

‘I love the garden and its vibrancy’: Richard Bell, administrator for Jackman Avenue conservation scheme. Photograph: Lissa Atkinson for the Guardian “Look at this space. It’s a community garden space that has been transformed….

Why community gardens thrive in the Square Mile

‘I love the garden and its vibrancy’: Richard Bell, administrator for Jackman Avenue conservation scheme. Photograph: Lissa Atkinson for the Guardian

“Look at this space. It’s a community garden space that has been transformed. A modern look, but with a timeless feel. I love the garden and its vibrancy,” says Richard Bell, a community administrator for Jackman Avenue community action, conservation scheme and allotment. He is talking of Carrot Common, on the north side of the main street at 93 Jackman Avenue, Gloucester, following community conversation, planning and training.

The project is linked to research carried out by the English Heritage conservation programme, which pinpointed the residential areas of Gloucester with the greatest significance in English literature, poetry and art. They are considered to be the Square Mile – a collection of street and garden spaces that are central to the city’s landscape. Though Carrot Common has a counter-restoration period, the garden was never intended to be part of Carrot Plank, a large piece of public art that runs across the length of Jackman Avenue, designed by Amanda Cooper.

Carrot Common garden. Photograph: Lissa Atkinson for the Guardian

“Lectures on English heritage were held in the garden and the Gardens in Place project encouraged people to speak out and take responsibility for their public space,” says Lesley Watson, the environment manager for Jackman Avenue. “People have explored the garden over the years. We are now partnering with architects to bring modern landscaping ideas, lighting and accessible garden furniture to the space.”

The scheme is being administered by Wry Capital, a company run by local, independent-minded people. Community interest companies (CICs) are non-profit community organisations. They have had registration as community interest companies for five years and work across Gloucester, including the fields of the local primary school, and facilities in theatres, town halls and museums.

Wry Capital scheme co-founder Dan Eames talking about inclusivity. Photograph: Lissa Atkinson for the Guardian

Dan Eames and Mike Porter are co-founders of Wry Capital, an independent community organisation, and co-founders of Manouches Delights, a peer-to-peer bakery cafe on Gloucester’s College Road. Eames grew up in the area and has close links with the community. He says: “We want to make sure that whatever approach we take in terms of design and development works to the wishes of the community.”

A series of planning measures, inspired by the Russell Sage ethos, have ensured that people had their say in planning matters about the allotments at Carrot Common. Following consultation with the local community, Wry Capital and Jackman Avenue residents has ensured a holistic approach to planning, which focuses on current needs, regeneration of the community and sustainability.

Eames explains: “We wanted to create opportunities for the community, from planning to day-to-day working.” He adds: “The garden is not just a structure; it is a working space and a collective-interest group. I hope it is a catalyst for things to come.”

Gloucester city centre has been revitalised, thanks to the Commonwealth Games and the neighbourhood project. Seawaters Inc, which is a collaboration of Brighton and Hove council and local business owners, has helped to make Gloucester a less car-dependent city and, says Bell, “The network of streetlights, leafy walks and green spaces all set a great tone for the new year. I can see how businesses, universities and schools will use the creative spaces in this context, while there is still so much to do to improve the city centre.”

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