March 2, 2021
Is anyone listening?
The evidence paradox (see here—>>>) seems a perfect fit for Scotland’s community growing movement. A new report by Social Farms and Gardens reflects on the past year and (modestly) demonstrates the breadth of policy boxes being ticked. It’s because of that breadth no one in Scottish Government feels obliged to take full responsibility for it. It could be any one of health, food, climate, social justice or community empowerment but it should be all of them. Instead, because of that evidence paradox, its embedded value across the range of those policy silos isn’t acknowledged and funding remains perennially precarious.
The community growing sector’s experiences of COVID-19, as projects, communities and individuals has differed widely. Projects and partners across Scotland have come together and reached out over the last year to share and discuss our challenges and opportunities, to seek support and guidance. These insights are enlightening both as to the ‘state of the sector’ and the role it can play in recovery and renewal.
Our experiences may have differed, however, many of us share hope and a clear ambition to play a bigger part. Through over 80 voices, from across Scotland we share the reflections and lessons, the adaptions we have made through uncertainty and change, and the various stages of lockdown.
Social Farms & Gardens (Scotland) would like to thank all those involved, including members, partners, and the Community Growing Forum Scotland for their time and commitment, and moving stories of resilience and hope.
So what do our experiences tell us about the ‘state of the sector’, its resilience and role in the community.
- Communities and citizens have a heightened and increased appreciation of the power of greenspace, community connection and activities, access to local food, and the grassroots response to the crisis. This has shone a spotlight on the many facets of community growing as an integral local resource.
- The network has responded in a multitude of amazing ways; from providing (when permitted) safe, active spaces for people to garden together, to processing and distributing emergency food and a lot more.
- The network is aware of just how important their work is in supporting people to maintain connections and a level of physical and mental wellbeing. We are Better Outdoors.
- Many projects, people, and communities, want to grow more food, to share what we grow and be a hub to distribute excess food that is available.
- Working more intentionally and positively on taking climate and nature action, connecting the issues and opportunities we have a unique role in engaging a wide range of people in action.
- Sectoral guidance to operate has been well received, though, understandably at times hard to keep up with and interpret; many groups be they staffed or volunteer led, have found this overwhelming at times.
- Those operating in more informal settings rather than statutory services, with associated layers of decision making, have often been more able to respond flexibly and keep their spaces open and continue to serve their communities, in often innovative ways.
- Central to groups’ ability and success in pivoting their delivery and approach has been developing and working in partnership, locally, regionally and nationally.
- However, not every community has had the chance ‘to grow’. We need equity of access and opportunity.
“If you liken our sector to what happens when you prune something hard, the following spring the shoots and fruits come back even stronger. We can play a strong part in a changed ecosystem and flourish.”
- Many new partnerships have been formed and tested, everyone reported that working in partnership has been central to remaining connected and relevant in this time of crisis.
- Small amounts of flexible grant funding during this period has been enormously useful, however grant funding needs to be more flexible, equitable and accessible to all, and to a wider range of potential applicants. Projects serving their communities spend a disproportionate amount of time on raising and sustaining funds. This impacts considerably on delivery.
- Additionally, if community growing spaces are to play a more coherent role across multiple agendas – including community resilience and empowerment, public health, climate action and green jobs, this requires longer term funding and resource.
- Despite a difficult year the sector remains hopeful for the future, and with adequate support and resource, we are keen, and will be ready, to play a pivotal role in a green recovery.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly for a mostly volunteer dependent sector, the people who run and volunteer for projects have demonstrated their resilience and innovation through the pandemic; ambition is high, however many are overstretched, energy and reserves are low, and for community growing to ‘grow back stronger’ we need support, locally and nationally, that does not bring additional burdens, is sector specific, ambitious and aimed at enabling sustainability and growth.