I have been lucky enough to be involved in a longstanding project to improve the alleyways that lie between the back-to-back terraces in my town. I can't even begin to describe just how dreadful some of these are - full of rubbish and flytipped waste, dog and cat faeces and the scene of various criminal acts. But slowly, slowly we have been turning things around. I can't take any credit for this - it is down to a group of people, people I now include amongst my friends, that we've collectively nicknamed the 'Alleypals!'
I've been asked to oversee the development of a community garden in the area, the same area that many of the Alleypals call home, so they have been my first port of call for help in getting things off the ground. We are being delayed by lease complications, but because of the time of year, I am keen to get started as soon as possible so that when matters are resolved, we can hit the ground running.
It turns out that we also have within our midst a rather excellent community centre with a lovely garden. When I made enquiries, they were willing to allow us access to use the greenhouse there, which is just the perfect location for raising a few seeds and propagating some plants. Whilst this requires a few horticultural skills, nothing too major, it does mean that we should have plenty to go around when the community garden is ready for planting and spares that will be available for the municipal planters and alley gardens in the area come spring.
So this afternoon, we set to work! Several cups of (Fairtrade, as it is Fairtrade Fortnight!) tea later, the Alleypals had planted tomatoes, peppers and chillies, broad beans and courgettes, as well as several types of flowers. We'll be returning on a weekly basis to nurture these to maturity and make sure there are plenty to go around.
I ask a lot of the Alleypals. They're an ever giving group of people, full of fun and community spirit and always willing to do as much as they can to improve their neighbourhood. Often with projects like the Community Garden, the target group is not the same as the 'easy wins,' but all initiatives like this really benefit from at least a core group of people who are happy to keep the momentum going and slowly and softly use their lovely welcoming qualities to draw others in. I'm very grateful to them for all the they do, and that they do so so willingly. And I'm filled with confidence that we can make this work.
So why do I think activities such as this are so important? First of all, there is an enormous well being angle. With a group around you such as this it is impossible to feel lonely, sad or frustrated. Often (as today) we spend time offloading, supporting and above all, laughing! Secondly, there is a resilience that come from being part of this community. Even within this small group we have gardeners, artists, adventurers, cyclists, activists, leafleters, craftspeople and woodworkers. We can probably cover about six different languages. We are young and we are old; fit and not so fit; able and not so agile. Where one struggles, others can step in. Very little can touch us.
And of course, and especially for me, there is an environmental side. I read with interest an article this week about the importance of 'back yards' in the climate change fight, and that's even without taking into account the positive benefits of growing your own food in terms of a carbon footprint. And then later about the development of 'Agrihoods' - it seems the Alleypals are more #ontrend than perhaps we realise! All in all, why wouldn't you do this given the opportunity?
And so that is my resolution. To provide as many people, particularly in this deprived corner of a deprived town, with as many opportunities to do so as possible. And I'm honoured to have the Alleypals at my side.
With enormous thanks to Mavis, Dor, Janet, Jeff, Andy, Miguel, Reza, David, Carol and Jo, and to the Resource Centre, Meath Street, Middlesbrough.
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.