The Gresham Community Garden is a new community growing space being created on derelict land in central Middlesbrough. The site will be developed for food growing that will help support local families in an area of high deprivation and poor lifestyle choices. It is part of a larger project - the Gresham Urban Eco Village - which will work with local residents to come together to live as more sustainable, supportive and diverse communities.
Spring 2018 The starting point: a large site, bounded by roads and underlaid with hardcore. People with ideas!
Barefoot suggested a 'no dig' approach as the ground was too hard and rubbly to consider planting into. 30cm compost would be added to the surface of the soil, mulching out weedy growth and allowing for a range of shallow rooted crops to be planted. This would be arranged into 90cm beds with pathways between, which would allow for easy access and activity. It would also provide an instant fix - something obvious even in the first year of the project.
The community was researched for existing assets that could be helpful in the project. Despite its housing, back to back terraces with small yards, there was a proud history of growing. There had been an established gardening group, meeting regularly; an ongoing programme of resident initiated and local authority supported alley greening projects; two existing community centres and an established community allotment, although this was at the opposite extreme of the ward. There was even an annual 'Gresham in Bloom' competition, enthusiastically supported! There was also a team of active volunteers supporting regeneration initiatives in Gresham and adjoining wards, many of whom had good gardening, building and creative skills that they were happy to share.
Whilst waiting for agreements on the land to be fixed, Barefoot initiated a new gardening group, making use of a greenhouse at a local community centre to propagate vegetable plants in spring 2018. The group meets regularly on a Friday afternoon at the Meath Street Resource Centre. Currently Dor, Andy, Jeff, Haile, Mig, Reza, Jo, Carol, Janet and Mavis and Noel the cat are helping. All are welcome!
Compost was sourced from Compost UK, a local company that processes collected domestic green waste from the Tees Valley. In April 2018, they were kind enough to host a visit from the Gresham Gardeners, who could see how the contents of their green bin were used and how they might benefit from it. Using this local source is typical of Barefoot's permaculture based approach, applying principles of using and valuing renewable resources - closing loops in a system, reducing the carbon footprint of a project or idea and building in resilience and sustainability.
Summer 2018 Sadly, access to the intended site in Gresham was put on hold. Undaunted, a number of new possibilities were explored. Work continued in earnest with the Gresham Gardeners at the Resource Centre and the group took on two new sites - two small raised beds at the Newport Community Hub and an allotment plot at the People's Park site!
Towards the end of the summer, the first crops started to appear! Just a taster of what could be achieved, plans for the future were discussed...
A Community Gathering was held, as part of the wider Gresham Urban Eco Village project, as to how things should progress. The gardeners were joined by local residents and people working in the area to decide where to head next! Everyone made a pot to symbolise their hopes and aspirations.
Towards the end of the year, the gardeners were kindly donated a massive gift of seeds from the local Tesco store. Christmas we spent sorting the seeds so they could be distributed more easily amongst residents (over mince pies!)
Towards the end of 2018, having run out of growing space, the Gresham gardeners decided to take on the tenancy of an allotment plot at the People's Park Community Allotment. A shed was donated by Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, and work began on clearing the overgrown plot in preparation for planting.
The 'Secret Garden' (which is located behind a workshop in Gresham!) was cleared to provide a new community space. Years of rubbish was cleared in preparation for creating a wonderful green oasis!
Whilst it was too cold to work outside comfortably, the gardeners also painted birdboxes left from a previous project so that they could be used in the alleys. It was about this time that news came of a grant awarded from TKMaxx's 'Neighbourly' initiative for alley clean ups - £800! (Thank you!)
April brought news of another grant award - nearly £5,000 from Middlesbrough Council's 'Empower' fund. This was to be used to create a community garden centre. The centre was to be located at Newport Hub and was devised in response to one of the suggestions at the Gathering, prompted by resident finding it difficult to source compost locally, particularly without transport. The centre would also be an outlet for spare plants, enabling some residents to make a small income.
Just after Easter, the Gresham Gardeners met with other local community gardeners for a visit to the Clervaux Trust near Darlington. This was to see food growing on a more commercial and larger scale. April also saw the donation of the first crop from People's Park - rhubarb - to Teesside University's 'Veg Patch' stall.
Over the summer, work concentrated on the development of a new growing space - Essex Square. Working with Streets Ahead, the first task was to relocate and refill large planters into the space, a large yard surrounded by housing.
The gardeners took a trip to the Shaw Trust in Stockton to choose plants to fill the space!
Essex Square officially opened on September 6th 2019, with residents and many local organisations visiting and sharing ideas.
Throughout the colder months, the group continued to meet and switched attention to rock painting and yarn bombing to decorate the new space. Three fruit trees were donated by Honest Graft and were planted in the Square, with some residents receiving specialised training to learn how to care for them, kindly arranged through Middlesbrough Environment City. Another grant, to install 'Little Libraries' in Gresham, was also secured.
Seed planting began in earnest in early 2020, with flowers and vegetables being sown for Essex Square, the community allotment and for the alley gardens in Gresham. The Community Garden Centre eventually opened in March!