Hosted by Green Communities Grangetown on Monday 9th May 2022. We were invited by the Grangetown Place Rangers to take part in the panel discussion about green initiatives, and what makes them work.

Speakers included:

Sally Hughes – Penarth Growing Community

Louise Gray – Greening Riverside – Growing Together

Steven Watts – Ediculture

Poppy Nicol – Global Gardens

Isla Horton – Grow Cardiff

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A bit about me and what’s shaped how I have got here – Sally Hughes

I worked in Further Education as a lecturer and manager for a decade. When I left I worked in a charity and for a social enterprise, through which I became involved in the British Council Active Citizens programme. This got me thinking about my own social action, which led to creation of the Share Cardiff project with Mike Erskine and Cardiff Transition.

Around this time in 2016 I met Poppy from Global Gardens and got involved with The Republic of the Imagination, learning the art of sensory labyrinth theatre and full moon feasting. I started to wonder why there was no community garden in Penarth.

In 2019, the big year for our Share Cardiff project, I learned much about the Transition Town Movement, which led me to permaculture. I’d arranged to speak to our local repair cafe about a Share Cardiff thing, and learned that GPG (Gwyrddio Penarth Greening), our local transition style group, were having a community meeting to see what projects local people would like to take part in to address the climate and nature crisis.

At this meeting, attended by over 100 local people, I stood up and said I’d like to create a community garden. Four other people also expressed an interest. Penarth Growing Community was born. It was also to beginning of Benthyg Penarth. And it was where I met Terry Reeves, an important teacher and coconspirator in our endeavours.

I’d seen that there was an opportunity to utilise the burgeoning community garden at West House, the Penarth Town Council building. In 2018, Councillor Kathryn McGaffer had created raised beds and installed a greenhouse, using section 106 money. They had the space, but hadn’t managed to involve the community beyond a few projects with a local school. Here we were.

In February, we negotiated our place in the garden. We were about to start sessions there and the world went weird. March brought lockdowns and everything paused. Including our Share Cardiff project. And my life went through a big process of re-localisation. I’d been going in to Cardiff for community things. With the turning of the world, my attention turned to the place in which I live.

In April 2020 I started my Permaculture Design Certificate with Poppy and Sarah Pugh from Shift Bristol. I dived head first into permaculture, and haven’t stopped. Penarth Growing Community is the Zone 2 in my permaculture life project. In January this year (2022), I signed up for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture with the Permaculture Association. It’s been a rich learning experience so far.

I’m also enjoying being part of Green Squirrel’s The Something Club online community.

Poppy told me about the patchwork market garden they had created in Hackney with the Growing Communities project. I knew a patchwork growing space would be what we could do, because of the nature of the available green space in Penarth. I’ve also been inspired by Incredible Edible Todmorden.

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Penarth Growing Community

What we do

We create and maintain spaces for food growing and wildlife in Penarth. We’re all about bringing people together to grow, learn and share. Our themes for 2022 are local food, food growing and climate action.

Who we are

We are a GPG project, sister to Benthyg Penarth & Plastic Free Penarth and others. GPG changed from a constituted community group to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) in March 2022 and now acts as an umbrella organisation which supports local projects.

Our core group(s) – it’s the relationships that matter

  • Eurgain Powell – GPG lead and Trustee
  • Sally Hughes – Kymin lead
  • Sarah Jones – West House lead (with Ryland Jones who’s been making us coldframes and planters)
  • Holding group – 8 women, supporting delivery of National Lottery funded ‘Grow-along’ project
  • Kymin Core Group with Friends of the Kymin – Elen Robert, Richard Parry, Petty Sagoo, Karen Martin

PLUS The many volunteers who come often, our followers and supporters, workshop participants, our two WhatsApp group participants and people who come to our events.

Why we do it

Reconnecting to ourselves, each other and the earth. Living locally, building community bonds, acknowledging that for navigating the challenges ahead, food growing and other skills are essential. Community resilience, laying the foundations for a relocalised food movement here where we live, so we can meet our needs in ways that sustain and regenerate.

As a demonstration of permaculture in action. For me, permaculture is a worldwide movement of people who are doing experiments on land and in communities to learn how to live more lightly on the earth. Guided by ethics and principles, people design systems for meeting our needs in ways which stay within the limits of earths resources, care for land, each other and share. 

Community growing, growing community

In July 2020, we started our Monday morning open session at West House Community Garden. We have been there every Monday that we could be since. We’ve been joined by a handful of regular volunteers and the garden is blooming.

In 2020 we also supported local people to create growing spaces, applying through GPG for the Keep Wales Tidy Local Places for Nature garden packs.

  • A wildlife pack was installed at Stanwell Crescent Wildlife Garden, maintained by resident, Paul Beswick.
  • A fruit garden was installed in the Golden Gates Park, with the Friends of Golden Gates.
  • We tried to create a community garden in Wordsworth Park, but our efforts got vandalised just as we were beginning. We had done a bit of local engagement, leafleting nearby houses, 10 local people came to get involved at our first event. However, our raised bed and signage got taken. Learning for us.

I set up a WhatsApp group, which now has 47 members. It’s active and lively.

Growing Together ~ Tyfu Gyda’n Gilydd’ Gardens Network

In 2021, we initiated the ‘Growing Together ~ Tyfu Gyda’n Gilydd’ Gardens network to encourage local people to create a space for food growing or wildlife in their gardens or outdoor spaces

  • We hosted a hugely successful town-wide seed and plant exchange, with exchange boxes at 10 addresses
  • We applied for and were given a small grant from Penarth Town Council to buy wildflower seeds and stickers to give to local people who signed up to the network
  • We set up a Facebook group
  • A neighbour made us a beautiful logo

Other things we did in 2021

  • I did a big plant sale in June 2021 in my back garden, as a way to test out a social enterprise model for sustaining our project, generating income from selling plants.
  • In March 2021, we worked with the Friends of the Kymin group to plant a community orchard at The Kymin.
  • We tend the planters and wildflower bed in Belle Vue Park with the Friends group there.
  • We were invited by Keep Wales Tidy to apply for the larger development pack, but we couldn’t find a space big enough. We connected with Lucie Taylor from CLAS.

In early October 2021, we had a big CommunityFest event at West House Community Garden, where we invited all the local projects working around sustainability and climate action to showcase their work, plus allotment jam, scones and plants for sale. The social media I did for this, with poems about the people involved, went down well, it was jolly good fun.

I hosted a community conversation on gardening for wellbeing at Piotr’s Stol Coffee ‘Together is Better’ event on World Mental Health Day. Piotr has brought his coffee bike and cookies to many of the events we have done.

I also made the Penarth Green Spaces map, which shows all the green spaces and growing groups around town.

In October 2021, I had a lightbulb moment, when I realised that as the Vale of Glamorgan Council had announced they were keeping The Kymin, it could indeed be the place we were looking for the install of the development pack. I contacted the Friends of the Kymin to see if they would be interested, they were, so we set up or core organisers WhatsApp group, and contacted the Vale of Glamorgan, who were also interested and up for supporting us.

In November 2021, we heard our application had been successful. Kymin Community Gardens was born. We did a number of community morning consultation events. We installed the pack between February and March 2022, through a number of community work parties and planting sessions.

I set up a Whatsapp group, in a matter of days 23 people had joined, all willing to help us install the garden pack. KWT’s Pam French said it was the most volunteer involvement they’d seen. At this moment I met Sarah and Ryland Jones, who have been key in our progress since. Sarah now leads the activities at West House.

Sadly, our greenhouse was vandalised, but it gave an opportunity for us to come together more deeply as a group, employing the attitudinal permaculture principles, helping us see the hidden gift in every situation. We now have regular open sessions at The Kymin, it’s growing beautifully. Benthyg Penarth recently moved into the garage there too, so it’s got potential as a site to grow a community hub.

In November 2021, I applied for the National Lottery Community Fund ‘Together for Our Planet’ grant, to run a year-long programme of workshops and activities and events. In February we learned we’d been successful, it was a rush then to get things ready to begin in March. I’m now in the middle of delivering this busy and varied programme, including monthly growing workshops, family workshops, skills workshops and community conversation events. This changes the nature of our project, making it more formal, with a paid role to coordinate.

So far we have done a big seed and plant exchange event with Friends of Victoria Square, as part of the Food Vale Festival, a Good To Grow Day celebration, two workshops on local food, food growing and climate action, two open sessions, two family sessions, and on 21st May we are making garden structures from willow with Sarah Lart.

To support all this delivery, I have set up a ‘holding group’ – a sort of steering or advisory group, for bouncing ideas and exploring challenges with, comprised of 7 extraordinary women from a variety of backgrounds. A good way to broaden perspectives.

Being connected to the wider networks is important for us, like Food Vale, Penarth Civic Society, Penarth Tree Forum, Penarth Living Streets. We will be taking part in the Penarth Open Gardens Scheme this year too. It’s the interconnections that make us work, and drive the work we do. It’s all about building community, using food growing as the catalyst.

What we are working on now:

Delivering our programme of workshops, activities and events

Sally – Kymin Community Gardens

  • Creating a Wild Food Garden and mini food forest (guild around two pear trees)
  • Fundraising for more raised beds

Sarah – West House Community Garden

  • Coldframes and planters made from greenhouse remains
  • Making a permanent seed and plant exchange box
  • Foraging map
  • Sunflowers project with Victoria primary

Other interesting thing happening – Food buying group

Our challenges include:

  • Balance, volunteer time vs paid time, burn out
  • Vandalism…
  • Communication – working with councils can be tricky, we are making progress. They likely find working with community groups tricky too.
  • Engaging and involving beyond our networks – my strategy is to link in with GVS, Eden churches climate summit, Dewis database groups and the food pod
  • Growing a crop surplus to share, we will get there, plenty of spare plants to share! 
  • Struggle with social media – need to up my game, hard because I’m conflicted by the ethics of it as a medium, yet know its value. I’m really good at it, but I’d rather be in the garden.

What I would say to others setting up a green project

  • Find yourself an umbrella – think about your structure, constituted community group, CIO, CIC, project of an already established group, how will you operate. A registered charity number gives more scope for grants and asking for donations.
  • Decide if it’s a voluntary thing, or a right livelihood thing, as they offer different routes

For me, PGC is zone 2 in my own permaculture project and it’s a route to a right livelihood, experiments with generating income through grant funding, workshops and plant sales

  • Follow your gut, look for opportunities
  • The Permaculture principles of small and slow solutions, make small changes, and use locally sourced resources and expertise, feature prominently in what happens.
  • Use an iterative process of actions and reflection – Small actions lead to other small actions and over time it becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts. When you add up all the little things we’ve done since Jan 2020, our project becomes significant, but it was created through a series of small steps
  • Get to know the people in your council, and your councillors, there’s two local councillors who like and share pretty much everything we do on socials, that’s helpful
  • Observe your local community, what’s happening already, can you see any gaps?
  • Find and meet the people who are working locally already and join in with them to learn, then work with them
  • Finding space to grow in – identify the green spaces, or potential green spaces, corners, abandoned brown sites, it’s surprising how many spaces there are where something could be growing. For us it’s been a series of serendipities that have come about from observing what’s happening locally
  • Identify your skills – your own, and the people you are working with 
  • Identity your aims – your vision, your goals – what are you trying to achieve? By imagining what you’d like to see in the world, you can plot backwards to create steps that get you there
  • Form a core group
  • Find your niche – the place where you have the right conditions to grow and reach your potential, for yourself and your project
  • Follow the good feedback
  • Follow and copy the bright spots (the people doing stuff you admire)
  • Set boundaries, be clear about what you can and can’t do
  • Think about succession – what happens if I leave or can’t carry on?

The future 

  • How we sustain ourselves – more grants, cost recovery workshops
  • Community hub at Kymin with Benthyg Penarth
  • Something growing around this food buying group
  • More space to grow on to the generate surplus to redistribute to enable more local people to access healthy local organic food, perhaps something where we redistribute produce grown in gardens and allotments though a community market…
  • …Community market

So many ideas!

One small step at a time.

Doing the best I can to be the change I’d like to see in the world, living in the future I’d like to see, but living it now.

Resources

Everything we do is shared on our website penarthgrowingcommunity.co.uk

My teaching resources are in the Grow-along section here.

You can view my permaculture endeavours on my very much a work in progress website at sallyhughes.co.uk

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