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Community gardening for climate, nature and heritage in Cumbernauld

A blog post by Lisa Snedden

Lisa Snedden
Our Heritage, Our Future Coordinator

Posted 03/04/2023

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Our Heritage Officer, Lisa, tells us about the work being done in Cumbernauld Village by a group of community gardeners that she volunteers with and how they got started.

The Village is the historic heart of the new town of Cumbernauld, with a history stretching back to the Romans and for a small village it is packed with greenspaces! The Village has a classic medieval layout, with a Church at the top of the Main Street and a coaching inn at the bottom with long gardens radiating from it. Several of the long gardens, known as Langriggs, survive and are now protected as a Field in Trust and as part of the Conservation Area. The Church itself, has an old Kirkyard and what we call the modern cemetery, which dates to the Victorian era. Over the years these spaces had become overgrown, neglected so much so that they were unwelcome and people didn’t like to visit them.

With the lockdowns during the Covid pandemic it became apparent how important greenspaces are to our health and well-being so a group of us got together, when restrictions allowed, to transform these overgrown spaces, starting with the Kirkyard and Cemetery! We discussed our plans with the local authority who were happy for us to go ahead. Over the next few months armed with hand tools and a lot of enthusiasm we cleared paths, tackled the triffids and opened up these spaces to be used by the community again.

Once we felt that we had got on top of the work at the Cemetery we decided to set ourselves a new challenge. Many members of the group grow their own fruit and veg so we wanted to help other local groups, and the wider community, do the same. We applied for funding in December 2020 and were successful. That funding enabled us to engage with the local care home where we were able to provide wheelchair-accessible raised beds and a variety of seeds to get them started. We also teamed up with the Family Learning Centre where the children got involved taking care of six raised beds and a lot of tattie bags! We were also able to upgrade the allotments that are located on the Langriggs. We purchased a polytunnel so we could be more sustainable by bringing on plants from seeds and grow a wider range of fruits and vegetables.

We worked alongside volunteers from Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Canal College employability programme, who built us two huge, raised beds in front of the allotments where we grow brassicas and salads for the people of the village to help themselves. These proved popular and we have now installed even more raised beds and half-barrel planters around the area and are growing tatties, pumpkins, leeks, strawberries, rhubarb and herbs!

Last year we decided to sign up for It’s Your Neighbourhood, a non-competitive environmental initiative managed by Keep Scotland Beautiful in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society. We wanted to be a part of a wider network and learn more about what other projects are doing in our local area and across Scotland. Part of the initiative involves a visit from a Keep Scotland Beautiful volunteer assessor who scores your project based on community participation, environmental responsibility and gardening achievement. We were thrilled to achieve a Level 4 “Thriving” certificate, and are aiming for the top with a Level 5 “Outstanding” score this year. Our assessor gave us so many suggestions on how we could make our project even better and lots of really useful horticultural tips.

We keep an eye on national initiatives and have recently taken part in the Dandelion Project. We hosted a Harvest Festival with a focus on sustainability. We had a tool swap, gave away surplus plants and crops, had demonstrations on how to upcycle and recycle everyday objects into raised beds and planters. All of this alongside art activities, circus skills and live music!

It's hard work, but it’s rewarding work! It’s lovely when people passing by comment on the work we are doing and thank us for making the village that wee bit better and a more pleasant place to spend some time. Local businesses have contributed by donating plants or watering some of the planters, we are even getting requests to build them their own planters or making them hanging baskets. People on the Main Street have been putting out planters at their front doors filled with beautiful flowers. It’s not just the greenspaces in the village that get the benefit of the community gardener’s work, we, as volunteers, get benefits too. Getting out and gardening is fantastic for your physical and mental health, which, during the pandemic especially, was so important. We share laughs on our Whatsapp group and enjoy working together to keep our village beautiful.

So, what’s next? We had hoped to have a quieter time this year and just continue to maintain the areas we already work in but instead we managed to acquire some surplus land from the local authority to extend the allotments. We will be adding enough plots to offer everyone on our waiting list a space to grow! Maybe next year we will be able to slow down.

 

Some of my top tips for community gardening!

  • Network – whether this is in person with nearby groups or on social media. There are so many inspirational groups out there.

 

  • Keep an eye out on local forums for people getting rid of leftover building materials. We created paths out of slabs that were being thrown away. We also picked up a shed from someone in the Village who was getting a new one. Let people know the kind of things you are looking for – you’d be amazed what gets donated.

 

  • Upcycle and recycle! Many of our plant pots are milk jugs, yoghurt and ice cream containers, just remember to poke holes in the bottom or low down on the side for drainage. We even bring on seeds in meringue trays.

 

  • Contact your local supermarket, most of them have community engagement members of staff who might be able to organise donations of plants or other materials.

 

  • If you are cutting back areas and producing a lot of woody clippings, consider making a log pile or a dead hedge. These are great habitats and a fantastic food source for insects. As the clippings rot they feed the soil too! Here’s a handy how to guide from the RSPB.
  • Join It’s Your Neighbourhood! We were hesitant at first, we thought everything needed to be perfect with all the planters looking pristine but that is not the case at all. We found that our assessor was really positive and encouraging about the work we are doing, and was able to give us really practical advice and helpful suggestions for the future.

 

  • And most importantly…remember to take time to enjoy the garden or other areas that you are working on! Grab a cuppa, take a seat and admire all of your great work!

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