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It is just over 12 months since I posted this call on Meanwhile's blog:
here’s my big ask: that you, as a member of the local community, get on-board with Meanwhile’s project to develop a vision for its future. That vision is an essential first step in raising the funds we need, getting the lease we need from the council, and being true to our mission of really being, as fully as we possibly can be, “the garden at the heart of our community”.
It is important to remember the context of this ask. As was clear from the start, the campaign has risen out of the tragic ashes of the Grenfell fire. The only hope we had - and still have - of success in what we are trying to do is that the council has changed its policy towards this part of the Borough. It needs repeating in this blog post too: any success we might enjoy in this particular endeavour links us with a bond of sadness and duty to those victims.
This post is a bit of a stock-take about all we've achieved in those 12 months, a thank you to the amazing response by everyone in the community, and some thoughts about what to do next.
We started 2019 knowing we had to present a community-led vision for the future of the gardens that would inspire the council to back our project to take control of the factory site and to give us the tenure we need on the site to raise the funds to make that vision a reality.
I'll say something about the steps in between and the people who've helped so much in making them happen, but first let me tell you about the meeting 2 weeks ago - a meeting with councillors Mason (Lab., local ward), Taylor-Smith (Con., deputy leader) and Cyron (Con., community engagement), at the gardens, at which we presented this remarkable and impressive document. (We're working on getting a nice web version up; the link will allow you to download the PDF). I think it is fair to say that the councillors were impressed and enthused, exactly as had been our goal this whole past year. In that meeting, the two Cabinet members said that:
- They agreed in principle to granting us the tenure that we will need to realise the community vision
- They are supportive of our ideas for the next stage of the project, which is to have a community co-design process of the whole gardens site, including its linkages to other open spaces in the "Trellick Triangle"
Our campaign process, when we launched it this time last year, was explained as follows:
1. We need to create a vision and a plan for the Factory site, something that genuinely is what we want, that comes from the community and has not been imposed from outside.
2. We need to take that vision to the council and say to them: “We want to know that if we get this funded, you will do your bit and grant us the lease we need to make it work”
3. We need to go out and find the funds to make that vision real from wherever that is - charitable funders, the Lottery, council and government programs … we’ll try the lot and shake the tree and find the means to create the future of Meanwhile. Look back at Jamie’s book of how Meanwhile was created - it was done like this. It was the passion of a community that allowed it to be born; it will be the passion of its community that will give the garden its future.
Our year 1 achievement can be described as being a dry-run of steps 1 and 2. We have produced a vision document, and the council have come back and "done their bit" as envisaged in step 2.
Why is this only a dry-run? Because our vision document describes a process we want to go through to create a community-led design, it does not describe that design itself. It says to the council: "here is how we want to proceed to get to the point of submitting plans to planning application … we need to raise serious money for that process, so give us comfort that you will not stand in the way of our realisation of the project."
I think we can pat ourselves on the back - the biggest obstacle that we have always thought in this whole process, getting a lease on the Factory building, is not today an obstacle.
For the past 12 months, we have met almost every 2 weeks - it was monthly at first, and then we settled into a 2-weekly rhythm. In all, about 50 people have turned up to the open, drop-in sessions. A few stalwarts have been involved a great deal. A special shout-out should go to Filippa, who came on the first meeting and explained that she was a local, recently arrived, was doing her Masters' at Central St Martin's and had decided to focus on doing a mini-master plan for the area. She soon decided to focus her work on the Factory Site, and her research, drawings and plans formed the backbone of the document we presented to the council. (By the way, she got a First for her thesis and Central submitted it for the President's Medal prize of the Royal Institute of British Architects - of course, we think it is brilliant and that RIBA should award her that medal).
The production of the document went well beyond Filippa's original thesis. Julie added case studies from other London community gardens; Hayley explained a vision for the Playhut; Simon talked of the educational past, present and future; Richard wrote about the role of gardens in community building in Chicago and their importance for environmental awareness; Susie added historical background; Dhelia made a beautiful and galvanising film; Tony N wrote about the future that the Metronomes see for themselves at the Factory; David explained Mind's project and how useful a classroom could be … Dayo organised the document, Giovanna proofed it, Agnes project-managed us, and Rohan printed it. And I'm sure I'm not mentioning half of those involved. There was "boat" Simon who read and critiqued, Jacob who kept everyone on their toes, Keith from Trellick who gave us encouragement from the side, Tom who wrote about skateboards and supplied some photos, and there were all those who read versions and sent in their comments and criticisms - a log of how we responded to all of these is being kept over here.
To everyone involved - thank you! And all of it has made a real difference. We wouldn't be in the good place we are without your input.
Well, this time, it's no longer a dry-run. We need to start a real community co-design process to deliver designs for the site that can be submitted for planning approval.
We've never done this before, and how exactly it happens is up for discussion and agreement. Here are a few things that we can say relatively confidently:
- It's going to require a lot of professional help, from architects to planning experts to co-design and democratic process experts
- Every piece will require community buy-in
- So it's going to take time and money
The Management Committee of the Meanwhile Gardens Community Association has asked Grow Meanwhile - this campaign - to continue with the overall objective of securing the future of the Factory site for the gardens. Our goal is clear, and we have a mandate to continue.
Here are some of the things we are now doing, and as ever, we have a completely open door for volunteers:
1. We will continue the 2-weekly rhythm of weekend meetings - though we will take advantage of the arrival of Spring to make these, for now, much more focused on hands-on community gardening (as well as a bit of campaigning) - more soon on this, and meetings will be announced on the website calendar;
2. We are planning another community evening event to kick-off the next phase in April - again, more soon
3. We'd love another galvanising film, this one focused on growing and gardening … volunteers?
4. We are working on fundraising for the substantial budget needed for the co-design itself - do reach out if you'd like to help with that (firstname.lastname@example.org)