My names Sam Willis and I'm involved in the Edible High Town Community Garden!
My only real experience of gardening prior to this project was hoeing weeds in my grandad’s garden and mowing his lawn. However, since moving to High Town, Luton, I became aware of the amount of neglected green spaces around my local area that essentially operated as bins.
Turning these into attractive, vibrant green-pockets of edibles and flowers for pollinators was a win-win. They obviously improved the aesthetics of these wastes patches, but also, brought people together around a neutral ‘third-space’ to allow for new ways to work with other local people to benefit the community. Lastly, we get potatoes out of it!
What benefits has the garden brought to the community?
Clearing the area-
Our ‘flagship’ spot is on High Town Road, the main thoroughfare through High Town. This is a raised bed surrounding a car park that for a long time was filled with overgrown barberry bushes rammed with cans and littered with all sorts of other detritus. We cleared it totally during a couple of community days last year, covered it in mulch and then planted some herbs over winter.
We now have a number of herbs growing, dwarf fruit trees as well as fruit bushes. I’ve seen a number of people pick some strawberries as they’ve been passing. This was our original hope – that people would be able to benefit from the produce whilst leaving enough for others. One bed we filled with lavender which has had many comments. This year, at the High Town Festival we will be packaging some of this and giving it away.
There are a number of other projects and lovely stories of local residents getting involved but this is, so far, our most complete project.
- Involving the community and encouraging residents to mingle.
- Making the area look aesthically better.
- Building networks - connecting organisations with the residents
- Producing healthy, home grown food.
"This success doesn't come without its challenges though"
High Town is a ward in the top 20% of most deprived wards in the UK. It has an industrial past but is now developing quickly into a London commuter-town.
Unfortunately, these factors together conspire to make High Town a place where throwaway culture makes the most sense and this can often be translated into a lack of care for the local area.
However, there is an active resident’s association, Friends of High Town, of which we are a part, and willing in many local people, businesses and organisations to make High Town work for everyone. Edible High Town is trying to do a small bit to build community around growing food, raising awareness around healthy eating, modelling a DIY sense that people can do little bit together to make a difference to their community and their own lives.
Our next challenge is the distribution of food!
We are thinking of ways to harvest the produce and give it out in a sustainable way.
We are looking at building on the 5 trees we’ve already planted in a small green space and creating a mini-community orchard there.
We also cleared a larger area in the middle of residential houses which was a site for fly-tipping and overgrown brambles.
We are working with a local botany student as well as another group, Penrose Roots, to build this space into a community allotment in line with the door-to-door consultation with local neighbours. There has been surprising take-up on small allotment spaces and willing to care for the patch.
We are also working closely with the Council, on their food strategy group, to work out ways of further greening the borough and creating edible spaces around the town. It’s hard to know exactly which way this will go but our ‘bread and butter’ is the number of spaces the council have designated to be done over with edibles.
So yeah, a lot of exciting plans to come yet!
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