I’ve been following this blog for a few months now after I heard and wrote about the challenges some residents are having in Newcastle around the ownership of public land. Graeme Stuart is a resident in Newcastle and is active in the Transition Newcastle group as well teaching community engagement through the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle. His posts are always interesting and thought provoking which I enjoy to read, however recently his blogs have gone from good to great as he has started to document the reclaiming of his verge. With the support of his partner, Cathy, their two girls have decided to reclaim the space out the front of their house and share it with their community.
On the first weekend of August the girls held their first working bee which attracted 14 kids and 9 parents to help out. To much of the parents surprise the kids really got into the project. Despite not knowing everyone at the start of the day, a sense of community was established with new friendships made. Other people from the neighbourhood also stopped by to see what all the fuss was about and introduce themselves. I’m always amazing at how just doing something, particularly an ‘equaliser activity’ like gardening (where everyone benefits and anyone can join in) lends itself to conversation.
In Graeme’s words:
I’m sure the garden is going to make a difference to people in our street. The kids (and parents) are going to build stronger relationships (two of the parents realised they went to school together), even people without kids are going to take an interest and get to know the kids better (a few neighbours stopped by to say hi) and it is likely to lead to more social get-togethers.
All because a bunch of kids decided to build a veggie patch .. amazing!
As you can tell from the images, Graeme’s family enjoys a generous nature strip – its over 6metres wide! Eat your heart out all those inner city Melbourne folk!! So they have left 2 metres for a walking pass near the fence side and 0.8m for car access on the curb side.
In this space they’ve planted cos lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, shallots, spring onions, strawberries, broccoli, pak choi, beetroot, potatoes, basil, mint, rosemary, coriander, bush basil, dill, parsley and marigolds… with more to come!
What particularly inspiring about this garden, apart from the size, is how the kids have been encouraged to take leadership roles for its development and maintenance. I like it how the adults have stepped back and given the children space to make the decisions and learn from the mistakes and successes that they will have. Community projects are often wrought with challenges with personalities and personal baggage often being a big influencer on the group and its abilities to bring about change. In this circumstance, the adults have to learn to step back and let this happen with little input. Imagine what they will learn!?
I once saw this community choir sing that song ‘Teach your children well’. The first time round they sang it as you would expect, then the second time round they sang ‘Teach your parents well’. It made me smile as being a mum of two young boys, they are definitely teaching me more than what I’m teaching them – or at least it feels like that at 2am!
I’m so excited to see things like this happening across Australia. If you know of any other projects like this be sure to let me know … its good to share the movement!
Also head over to Graeme’s blog for further insights into community engagement. Its a worthwhile read.
PS all photos from from Graeme’s blog – hope you don’t mind!