What is the future for Edinburgh’s community backgreens movement?

Appropriately it’s being held in one of their fifteen communal gardens – Strawberry Fields in Leith, near Easter Road.

People from all over the city have come today, to eat together, and to talk about the future of the organisation. As I write, they are splitting up into enthusiastic workshop groups to discuss what they want to happen next.

This is a critical time for the project.

Despite it’s success in founding so many community gardens, impressive sites with raised beds, fruit trees, and safe spaces for children and families, ECBA lost its Climate Challenge funding this spring.

Greig Robertson, who founded ECBA in 2006, opened the meeting by explaining that the two paid members of staff – including himself – were now out of work, and that the organisation would need to decide whether it should -and could continue, just run by volunteers.

But though there has been no vote yet, it seems clear that there is enormous energy and commitment from the people here to do just that. After enthusiastic discussions in small groups, they are full of ideas of how to take things to the next level – both improving the existing sites, and creating new ones.

As well as reclaiming neglected backgreens, the project has also delivered many grow-your-own workshops, and workshops in everything from cider making, collecting wild food, to joinery – the big communal garden table we ate at before the meeting was made at one of them.

Fortunately, those workshops already pay for themselves, and should be able to continue. 145 people came to the workshops at the Sunshine on Leith site, for example.

But it seems ironic that a project that fulfils so many ideals, in terms of local food, creating communities, and healthy living, should not be able to secure funding to expand.

Greig himself now hopes to continue his work as a consultant, possibly working with communities elsewhere in the city, like the Calders – and he’ll continue to work on the board of ECBA.

But whether the project will continue to thrive and grow in the city now depends on people power – not just on his vision of how the city’s communal gardens could be.

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