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March 3, 2010

Communities in the backyard

Anyone who has ever peered out the back of a tenement building will be familiar with the sight of broken fences, washing line poles and overgrown vegetation.  These backgreen spaces are the property of everyone and no one and as a result often lie untended for years.   But it doesn’t have to be that way. New life is starting to appear across many of Edinburgh’s backgreens. Residents are coming together to reclaim their shared space

Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association is a community enterprise created to inspire and support folk to develop tenement backgreens into community greenspaces, which build a sense of neighbourhood and improve the environmental sustainability of the households that live around them.

Just over half of Edinburgh households live in tenements.   Tenement backgreens range widely, some are urban oases, many others are just a square of grass with some drying poles, and the worst are inaccessible jungles. 

ECBA believe that backgreens can offer much more. They can be diverse beautiful greenspaces which provide a place for relaxation and recreation, places for growing food and meeting neighbours.  By linking neighbouring backgreens, we can create ‘community backgreens’, which share common facilities like tool sheds or play facilities for children. 

ECBA was set up to support residents to create community backgreens.  Their website gives lots of information as to how to set up a community backgreen, and about the services they provide to tenement households to enrich and maintain their backgreens.

ECBA are particularly interested in sites where larger greenspaces are formed when several streets of tenements enclose a group of backgreens.  They seeks to work with residents to use their backgreens as a resource to build a sense of neighbourhood, and to improve the facilities and amenities available to households around the site

Their  first goal at a new site is the creation of a ‘community backgreen’ in the centre of the site.  The community backgreen is the focus of community activities and services, it is where they install the community shed and other facilities. 

Wherever possible, the community backgreen will be located in a small area in the centre of the site, which all residents can gain access to.

The community backgreen provides a central location for shared activities and community facilities which might be useful to all of the households such as, a jungle gym play area for young children, a community composting facility, bike sheds or whatever the residents decide. 

Once they have created a community backgreen, ECBA will install a timber shed for storing tools and equipment.  As this shed is to be shared by all the residents involved in the project, they call it the community shed or ‘co-shed’ for short.

Grow your own

Grow Your Own’ is the name of their project to support tenement dwellers who want to grow fruit and vegetables in backgreens or in allotments.  Because the waiting list for allotments in Edinburgh is so long, (2,000 households waiting 2-7 years), ECBA are looking at ways that they can support residents to start growing whilst they wait for an allotment.  There are several ways in which they can help:-
• They teach a Grow Your Own course,
• They are seeking to establish several Community Allotment sites across the city,
• They are supporting households to install Raised Beds in their own backgreens.
• They are promoting the ‘Forest Garden’ model to establish an urban orchard.