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Fostering community spirit turns out to be much harder than you would think.

I run a small community garden project. Part of the land in the Garden I work at is given over to the “MiniPlotters” a group of people who, in return for participating in communal tasks, receive a plot of land (a Mini Plot) to grow in, for the grand total of £Free.

Allotment spaces are rare in London. Waiting lists are 10 years long, or closed completely. To be able to enjoy growing in your own small plot, for nothing but dedicating some of your time is, I believe, an amazing thing.

Every year a MiniPlotter is asked to sign a new contract, illustrating their commitment to keeping their own plot in good growing order, and to come to at least one of our community days every other month. That’s it. One day a month, six times a year.

And what amazes me, is that people seem unable, unwilling or uninterested in doing this.

I realise that having an allotment, a growing space, has become very trendy recently, and that people think it would be great, but underestimate quite how much work it actually is. Because in reality folks, not even including joining in on the communal days, just looking after your own little 1×2.5 metre plot of land can take up more time than you imagine.

During the summer, in peak growing months, you need to check your plot weekly (Ideally, if you are actually growing things!) And even in the winter, when there is less obvious productivity, the usual tasks of weeding, compost turning, leaf raking, wood chipping paths etc are still there needing to be done. Even though it’s cold. And not nearly as nice to be outside.

The communal space that our Mini Plots are in is ripe with potential development. Since I have taken over the project I have, with the help of the MiniPlotters, built more beds and compost bays, and have more plans for expanding.

And each time I arrange a community day, and I list out the tasks that we can do, how we can work together to develop the space, things that I consider incredibly exciting (Lets take the sloping piece of land behind the shelter, the one that people dump rubbish in because it looks like a shit hole, let’s tidy it up, terrace it, put in propagators so we can sow seedlings and expand our growing space! We’ve inherited some irrigation tubes, lets lay them, it’ll save time watering! Let’s cut down those massive over grown buddleias so we have room to put in a storage shed for all the pots and canes and other garden-y paraphernalia that gets dumped in corners and blown around the garden space!) I expect people to go “Hellz yeah! That sounds cool! Let’s totally transform our communal space into a more awesome place to be!”

But instead… I get dismal turn out.

Today, even with the awareness that they have new contracts to sign, only six of our twenty four MiniPlotters came to the communal day.

And the lack of turn out is not only disappointing because – where in the f**K are they? But also because it means all the development plans take longer, the “Many hands make light work” idiom is true! Especially when trying to shift several tonnes of woodchip, for example.

And I find it exhausting. To try and rally people, to encourage them to be as excited, engaged and invested in the space as I feel the community deserves.

Because it is an amazing opportunity to be a part of. To take a space and bring it to life. To work together as a group, and care about the people who manage the little plots of land around yours. To tend to other peoples plots because they are away, to enjoy that feeling of success and togetherness bringing change to your environment brings you.

And instead I find myself having to be “The Bad Guy”. I remind people of the contract they signed, of the (quite frankly) small commitment they promised to make. I mean, I’m not an asshole, if people have issues and need time or help or have valid reasons for not being able to participate that’s totally fine. But more often than not, it feels like people just seem to not consider it as something they need to bother applying time or thought to.

I’m not really sure how to finish this post – it feels a bit moany really (sorry about that dear reader, but I guess that might just happen now and again)

Community Spirit. In my mind our community comes together to enjoy each other and working on our shared space together. That in this big city of anonymity, we are a group of strangers that have become a group of friends. That we spend time together, we sow too many plants and share them with each other, and when our plots produce food we share overflow and create meals together out of our harvest to sustain us.

I wonder if this is really attainable.

2015 – Year of Community Spirit?

 

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