Stromness Community Garden (SCIO) held a successful AGM last weekend at the Stromness Community Centre. 16 people attended and a new board of trustees was elected for the coming year.
It is five years this month since Stromness Community Garden became a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. To mark this I thought it appropriate to reflect on these five productive years, and take a look at the beginning of the organisation and our achievements over the last few years. This also is a way of marking my 5 years as chair as I will resign at this AGM having served the maximum permissible term as a trustee.
Back in 2010, the main catalysis’s for the community garden were the lack of quality allotment plots in Stromness and a desire for starting a community run venture which could be more dynamic and responsive to what people wanted. After early discussions the first meeting of Stromness Allotment and Community Garden Steering Group was held in March 2011. This paved the way for an open public meeting held in July 2011, where the community was asked about allotment provision and what they wanted from a potential community garden project.
In September 2011, Stromness Community Garden Society was constituted as an Unincorporated Association and the quest began to find a site and some set up funding. Meetings with Orkney Islands Council, local land owners and Orkney Housing Association led to a number of options for a site being considered around the town. Orkney Housing Association Ltd (OHAL) owned a number of suitable plots and were keen to support and a sustainable growing project. In November 2011 a request was made to OHAL to lease land at Brownstown Road. This was accepted, however there were still a number of milestones to reach before we could get on the ground. OHAL donated the project equipment, including the polytunnel, shed and tools, from their Climate Challenge Fund project Reducing Energy Growing Green. So we had a site, and some equipment thanks to OHAL, but still could not start growing …. for another year as it turned out!
We still required planning permission for the change of use on the site. In addition, in order to take a formal lease of the site, we needed to formally constitute as an organisation. Planning permission was granted in September 2012 and SCIO status was granted in February 2013, five years ago this month. Start-up funding from the Craigmyle Community and Stromness Community Council allowed us to erect fencing on the site. A 10 year lease was signed in July 2013.
Nearly on site you may think? Just one more hurdle. In order to satisfy our planning permission, we had to construct a new vehicle entrance and car park to the site. We applied for a lottery Awards for All grant, which was awarded in September 2013. The new road entrance and car park was completed, and shed installed, by the autumn of the same year. I just made that all sound very simple, but it was a huge amount of effort as our in kind contribution to the grant award was to build the paths and lay the surface of the car park. Over 50 tonnes of gravel and sand was moved by hand, but it has certainly done the job and has stood the test of time and use.
Following that herculean effort, there was a bit of a lull in major building projects as members started cutting turf and cultivation their own plots during 2014. Willow shelter belt was planted on numerous work days and drainage gullies cut. Now we could get on site and offer the community allotment plots, our membership grew and has remained stable ever since at around 40 households. We quickly became financially sustainable balancing our outgoings with income, and this remains so today. Numerous fund raising events such as talks, book and produce stalls raised extra income. We still had the small matter of a polytunnel to put up, which was no mean feat. Thanks to many dedicated work days and the advice of Bob Nelson the tunnel was finally completed in June 2015. Having spent several years getting on site, after 3 years on the ground we had a good set up.
Other successes have been fund raising, with over £15,000 raised over the last few years, most notably the HLF grant for the car park and proceeds from running the Blue Door charity shop for a week. We have enjoyed building a closer relationship with our neighbours in Grieveship, and the Grieveship Residents Association have more recently taken an active role in the Marwick Playing Fields. This extends community owned land from our site to the estate, and the GRA gained funding to reinstate the path up to Brinkies Brae. We look forward to working with them in the future. There have been challenges, namely the water supply (which is now partly resolved), the weather, the massive pile of stone chips, and securing the future for the garden.
So far I have given you a lot of facts and figures, events and achievements, but they’re all important to recognise. This is a volunteer organisation, and without the efforts of trustees, members and other volunteers from the community over the years, none of this would have happened. It has been immensely satisfying to see the site grow, plots develop and to cultivate tasty food in the polytunnel and outside. The polytunnel has been a real success and is now full. Offering growing spaces undercover and bringing new people into the organisation, it has been a real landmark for the site and project. It is possible that we may try and add another polytunnel to the site. The site itself has proved excellent. Although exposed from the west, small wind breaks and shelter belts has allowed plots to flourish, and the polytunnel (despite what many thought) is still in one piece (several force 11 storms as well)! The site has been a real hub for meeting new people, taking in the views of Scapa Flow and Hoy, enjoying the outdoors and gentle exercise, and getting that blissful last of the summer sunshine.
The main efforts by the SCG board this year have been towards securing the future of the site. In a review of their land bank OHAL have offered to sell the land. Following meetings and discussions with members and other community groups it was decided that the best course of action is to try and buy the site, a process that had just started at the last AGM. A Scottish Land Fund application was submitted in August last year proposing to buy the full 4 acre site (we currently occupy half). Unfortunately, due to the high land value and the need to provide a more advanced development plan than we could, this was unsuccessful. The board have since been reviewing the options and have been in discussions with our consultant, land fund adviser and OHAL. We are currently exploring the options to resubmit the SLF application. In my opinion, this is the most significant issue facing the community garden. After all this hard work and success, it would be shame to lose the site. OHAL have been very supportive in helping us at every stage, however there remains a real threat to the security of the site and project. We are currently half way through our short term lease and need to find a solution. As I move on from being Chair and a trustee, I urge the incoming board to make this a priority.
To end, I wish to extend thanks to our secretary Andrew Parkinson (who also stannds down this AGM) and treasurer Ian Garman for all their hard work as office bearers, and the other trustees for attending meetings and contributing to the running of the site. Thanks to members and other volunteers for their hard work on site. Thanks to Orkney Housing Association for their support and continued lease of the site, and for their patience in exploring the options for purchasing the land. It has been a successful 5 years for Stromness Community Garden; let’s use the next five years to provide a sustainable platform for the garden into the future.
Dan Lee 18/02/18