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March 30, 2021

Guerillas in Dalkeith

With lock down about to ease and memories still lingering of the discarded litter and detritus in the aftermath of the mad dash to escape to the country or anywhere that wasn’t home, a Litter Summit was held earlier this month to consider Scotland’s longstanding and chronic litter problem. There are no easy answers but a prerequisite for change has to be a baseline level of civic pride. In Dalkeith, a couple of locals noticed the place was looking a bit shabby and quickly became the recruiting sergeants for the town’s small army of guerilla gardeners.

Caitlin Hutchison, The Herald

Meet the guerrilla gardeners improving their local area one flowerbed at a time.

They are a collection of individuals that share the belief that their town deserves to be looked after and has powerful heritage that should be celebrated.

The community gardeners – from Dalkieth, in Midlothian –  don’t have any qualms about rolling up their sleeves and all but banishing the unruly weeds, litter and vandalism that previously blighted the area.

They formed in 2019 after Dalkeith local Denise McKenzie began to see her beloved Dalkeith town centre look uncared for – blaming stretched local authority budgets and declining resources.

Since then, the small cluster of motivated, like-minded individuals has grown to a team of up to 30 guerrillas and a facebook group approaching 1,000 members.

It seems that once people got wind of the positive impact of their work, interest and offers of support started to snowball.

Now, the efforts of the group have been recognised with an award from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society for their contribution to horticulture and gardening in Scotland.

But keen member Sharon Mackintosh explained that while the recognition is welcome, the group’s main focus is on making a difference to the landscape of Dalkeith.

“Whilst we don’t guerrilla garden for awards or recognition we are all extremely proud of the fact that our efforts in improving the appearance and care of Dalkeith Historic Town and Woodburn have been recognised”, she said.

“Dalkeith is a place we all care passionately and we all have a collective responsibility for the environment around us.

“We are thrilled to be making our town a beautiful place to live.”

During lockdown, the group was resigned to splitting up for solo litter-picks on their government-mandated daily physical exercise – but slowly began to meet up once again in pairs or smaller groups when it was permitted.

And the movement is continuing to grow, with people in the community coming together “of all ages and ability”.

“All we ask is that people bring along gardening gloves and lots of enthusiasm”, explained Sharon, who is out most weekends to lend a hand.

What the award-winning group has discovered is that by getting their neighbours involved, or asking local community groups or businesses for their support, it’s not only a great way to improve their surroundings – but also to meet new people and bridge divides within the community.

Working alongside fellow local groups, the Guerrilla Gardeners have several more ideas on how to brighten up Dalkeith – starting with a collection of murals popping up across town.

One of the displays, harking back to market days of old when cattle and other goods would be driven into the town, features six highland cows “keeking o’re a Dyke”, and was created by Dalkeith Arts vice chair Margaret Bititci.

“The process has been true community activism that has led to the formation of many other small groups across the local authority”, Sharon added.

“The difference in the town centre and in Woodburn is noticeable and has drawn hundreds of positive comments from members of the community.”