Case study of G3 Growers/The Back Garden, off Brechin Street, Finnieston, Glasgow G3 7HF
G3 Growers approached Social Farms & Gardens for guidance and support on sustaining enthusiasm and momentum for its community garden. It faces many issues common to voluntary-led garden groups; recognition for, and interest in, their work but varying levels of ‘hands on’ input into the garden or its management. Since voicing its need for change, G3 Growers has sought support from a number of different agencies to go forward in a more sustainable way. This case study serves to highlight some of the creative, replicable approaches they have taken to bring new members on board.
‘The Back Garden’ was established in 2010 by Annex Communities, on securing a 15-year lease on a piece of waste land owned by the Glasgow West Housing Association (GWHA) and accessing funding from the Climate Challenge Fund. Thereafter, a group of residents, ‘G3 Growers’, set up a voluntary management committee and now manage the site. The focus is on health and wellbeing through communal production of food and gardening with wildlife.
G3 Growers’ Vision
To invest in the garden and community. To increase engagement with the local community and engage with partners where mutually beneficial.
The garden consists of five large raised beds, a secure shed, small polytunnel, composting area, a plastic bottle greenhouse and several water butts. Anyone living in the Glasgow area is welcome to become a member. In exchange for an annual £10 fee, members receive unrestricted access to the garden, though it is suggested that novice gardeners buddy someone more experienced. 'Open sessions' are offered at different times throughout the week, supported by an experienced garden member. Year-round activity is promoted with an extensive job list of weeding, planting and tool maintenance.
The group’s ethos is very much about gardening together and this is reflected in the communal beds, joint garden planning sessions and a large whiteboard in the shed. Over the years G3 Growers has run a wide range of training sessions from all things horticultural to Elementary Food Hygiene, joinery and using social media. It continues to do this to maintain interest and develop new skills amongst its members. The group has plans to extend training to include crafts and developing produce for sale such as: pesto, kimchi and perhaps cleaning products.
Practical side of governance
G3 Growers currently has circa 40 members. The MC of Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary and three or four committee members meet monthly and the group holds its Annual General Meeting in the summertime. Minutes are shared with members via dropbox and displayed in the shed. Members communicate amongst themselves through a garden diary in the work shed and monthly task white board.
The group has received ongoing help from Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS) in setting up and running a committee, secretarial training, writing a constitution and mission statement and developing policies. More recently, GCVS has supported the group in reviewing how it recruits and maintains members, and in running a Board skills audit.
In keeping with G3 Growers’ vision, the group is very outward-facing, constantly seeking to meet and share with others and welcome new people to its membership. The garden regularly features in local and city-wide events of interest and is used to support other community projects. They have been awarded ‘thriving’ status by the RHS ‘It’s your Neighbourhood Award’.
Creative approaches to maintaining momentum
Despite, or possibly because of, its high level of activity, the recruitment and retention ofactivegardenand management committee members is an ongoing challenge. The core membership has thought creatively about how to reach a broader community of people and maintain their personal motivation for the garden. They have adopted a number of measures to try to extend the project’s reach:
- Revised opening times to buddy the less experienced gardeners.
- Placed signage at the garden entrance with clear opening times, details of who to contact and clearly stating all welcome, no experience necessary.
- Increased publicity by placing posters in the local health and community centres, in local businesses and with community organisations.
- Created a Facebook page.
- Advertised volunteering opportunities in different languages. - Widened the area in which they advertise, now stipulating that anyone from the Glasgow area is welcome to join them.
- Written management committee job descriptions with a view to recruiting and coaching new members into post.
- Tried to establish sub groups for design and crafts, fundraising, administration and social media to spread the workload.
- Delivered garden training sessions with an external facilitator for all members.
- Visited other volunteer-led gardens using the Community Learning Exchange Fund to network and share ideas on low-maintenance gardening methods and sustaining volunteer momentum and commitment.
Advice from G3 growers to other volunteer-led groups starting up:
- Visit similar groups/projects and gain as much advice as possible.
- Decide what sort of project you want to be: volunteer-led, income-generating, etc. Then make a thorough list of what is required to operate in the long-term e.g. a bank account, insurance, etc. These all take time to get established.
- Recruit some members with car access for help to collect/deliver equipment.
- Be clear about the expectations of membership. Promote the shared and equal responsibility of sharing and exchanging skills, the need for continued site and tool maintenance, and ongoing project development.
- Try and establish as large a committee as possible with subgroups to spread the workload.
- Seek local business sponsorship/support to help with ongoing costs such as printing or advertising.
- Remember that a lot of funds often don't contribute to ongoing costs.