This growing season, Creative Dundee and the University of Dundee came together to work with the community in the Fairmuir area of Dundee to build a new community growing space, Fair Growing Green. Working with communities to take action in their own neighbourhoods through community growing spaces is something I am passionate about because of the way it allows anyone to shape their local environment, better manage their impact on the climate and choose what they eat. Most importantly they provide the opportunity to do that collectively, and I was delighted to join the team as the Emerging Creative Producer and support local communities to create and activate a new community space through a creative programme.
The project took ownership of a disused public bowling green and clubhouse located at the edge of Fairmuir Park in the north of the city. Although a popular place for residents and footballers, the area lacks places for people to come together. The site had previously been under threat from developers but was saved after a successful campaign by an active community, who felt passionately that the space should remain an accessible, community green space. Neighbourhood group Friends of Fairmuir had begun to imagine how the empty space could be transformed into a community garden that would act not only as a space to grow food for residents, but also bring the community together.
As part of Dandelion – a community based growing project which supported the build of 13 Unexpected Gardens around Scotland – we were delighted to work with them to make their idea a reality and create a new growing space to join an already fantastic network of community gardens across the city.
The timescale for such a large scale project was ambitious, and just securing permissions for the site was challenging. We then faced essential repairs to water pipes and delays with material supplies alongside rising material costs. This meant that our garden build didn’t begin until June and, with the growing season well under way, a group of enthusiastic garden volunteers were essential to creating a productive growing space in time. The response and dedication from local residents was inspiring, with many coming along each day the garden was open to give several hours of their time. Many shared that the garden was an opportunity for them to get out of the house, meet people in their community and improve their health and wellbeing. This was particularly important to them post pandemic when many people had experienced poor health and isolation. It was a pleasure to get to know their stories, create a place together, learn new skills and explore the potential and value of community garden spaces beyond growing.
Dandelion aimed to bring together growing and creativity, encouraging people to share not just food but music, knowledge and ideas. As I had witnessed in other community growing spaces around the city, the garden proved to be a wonderful environment to experiment and share ideas and skills. It was an accessible, relaxed space where individuals felt as though they had a place and, no matter their age or level of growing experience, had something to contribute.
Through our summer programme, we worked with 23 individual creatives and local businesses through commissions or events which animated the garden space, and our film maker Zoë Swann and photographer Lydia Smith were there to capture moments big and small . Musicians in Residence St Kilda Mailboat – Claire Gorman and Mark Urban – explored the sounds of the garden through immersive workshops and encouraged music making to be woven into the garden space and activities. We held a series of evening skill sessions led by our garden facilitators, Jek and Fletcher, where we learned about propagation, mushroom growing, biodiversity and foraging within the local area. On a hot, sunny day in August, kids were let loose to build imaginative creations with ScrapAntics Loose Parts Play and our weekly Community Lunches brought the group together to enjoy the produce of the garden, and reflect on the progress of that week.
The project also extended beyond the garden with the transformation of a run down maintenance building at the edge of Fairmuir Park next to the bowling green. In collaboration with Open Close Dundee, we commissioned Dundee based illustrator Zofia Chamienia to design and install a public art piece in consultation with local residents. This was Zofia’s first piece of work at this scale so we teamed her up with illustrator and experienced mural artist Lauren Morsley to mentor her in creating her first mural. In a workshop, individuals were invited to draw themselves and how they enjoyed spending their time in the garden and local green spaces. Zofia incorporated these ideas into her final, vibrant and joyful design which reflects the people of Fairmuir.
Our finale Harvest event on Sat 10 September celebrated a season of growing, creativity and new friendships. We welcomed over 250 people for an afternoon of free creative workshops with Rhona Jack, Mairi Isla, St Kilda Mailboat and ScrapAntics Loose Parts Play, exploring the sights and sounds of the garden, making flags and the mural being revealed as Lauren and Zofia painted. Families and friends shared tea and cake provided by the Newport Bakery and we handed out free soup bags from Fraser’s Fruit and Veg to encourage people to enjoy going home to cook with seasonal ingredients and eat together. Along with representatives from many of Dundee’s community gardens, we talked about the amazing benefits of these spaces and the future of growing in Dundee, and hopefully encouraged some of the audience to get involved.
You can see some of the highlights of the harvest festival and hear about the community growers experiences this summer as well as their aspirations for the future in this short film by Zoë Swann:
Over the summer it was so rewarding to watch as people slowly began to feel that the space was theirs and that they were the custodians of it. Weekly community lunches shifted from events “hosted” by garden staff to get-togethers where everyone would muck in – preparing food together, bringing along dishes from home and sharing recipes. The garden has now been handed over to the community, run by passionate garden volunteers and supported by Dundee City Council’s Green Spaces team. Community growers are ambitious and enthusiastic about the future of the garden and what they can achieve there as well as what they can contribute to the wider Fairmuir community. They are an active part of the recently formed but thriving Dundee Community Gardens Network who have ambitious plans for working together to increase awareness about community growing spaces in the city.
For me, this project has solidified my belief that community gardens are hugely valuable spaces which should be a part of every neighbourhood. They are free, welcome everyone and offer people the chance to meet others with different skills and work collaboratively to make actual change happen. Dundee’s network of community gardens already demonstrates that these spaces are more than gardens but creative and inspiring spaces which not only grow food but cultivate confidence and belonging. In my new role as Creative Spaces Producer I am excited to continue collaborating with and supporting them, championing community gardens as important cultural assets in the city. I hope they continue to plant seeds, grow communities and feed our imaginations.
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