Besides being the Chair of FoSGP Carol is also the lead organiser of the St George's Park KidsFest which is part of Wyre Forest District Council's Kidderminster Arts Festival (KAF) an annual arts and culture event held every August in the town. Niki was very interested in what FoSGP is doing and told Carol that she would like to visit us here in Kidderminster and of course FoSGP would warmly welcome her and every opportunity that arises to build upon our relationship with The Calthorpe Project. A guiding light for all community growing initiatives and green space projects as an early pioneer in community led urban cultivation and neighbourhood self reliance The Calthorpe Project is a worthy role model.
At our current stage of development Calthorpe represents to LEAP an inspirational model of community development for the productive use of urban green spaces as gardens and venues for popular culture, community involvement and wellbeing. It shows just what can be done with vision, local involvement, widespread backing and sufficient political will to facilitate ventures like this in a locality. If any of those elements are missing projects will naturally be held back, although as initiatives like the Calthorpe Project prove beyond any doubt, the only indispensible characteristic for this sort of change to happen is the energy and vision of volunteers to make it happen in the the first place. In terms of sustainability the Calthorpe Project goes beyond the buzzword and it has done since it was first visioned and started on Grays Inn Road in the London Borough of Camden in 1984.
Thirty years after local residents defeated plans and saved the land from being developed into offices The Calthorpe Project goes on from strength to strength and has become an inner-city oasis that is also one of the oldest community gardens in England. Back at the beginning of its journey in the 1980s the Calthorpe Project was funded entirely by Camden Council, but now that funding - in common with all public sector spending - has reduced considerably. Nowadays Calthorpe like FoSGP and the community sector in general has to seek funds from wherever we can find them. Sustainability is a more convoluted journey in 2014 than it was thirty years ago, but their development and evolution is in no short measure due to the creativity and tenacity of the 50 regular volunteers and 1500 service users that populate the place. The Calthorpe Project gardens have more than 30,000 visits per year preceding by more than two decades the currently popular vegetable tourism as exemplified by Incredible Edible's Todmorden where the term seems to have originated during the last decade.
The Calthorpe management team have had to now consider income generation in ways they did not have to in the mid-1980s, they have to fill the gaps with creative solutions as do any community led organisation. As well as making the most out of hiring out its sports pitch and meeting rooms, the project is now looking to see business benefits from food grown in the community garden. The Project is receiving help from University College London students who are working on a feasibility project about setting-up a social enterprise and café using the food grown from the community garden.
Almost all of these incredible achievements were written into the LEAP bid by the Friends group over a year ago. The Calthorpe Project had in that sense already been visioned in FoSGP proposals for LEAP long before Carol's visit to London. All the documents FoSGP have so far produced for LEAP share the same vision as The Calthorpe Project and other sister projects around the country including Incredible Edible in Todmorden, Lancashire, the Edible Bus Stop in London and the nationwide Project Dirt network.
Collaboration and partnerships with local authorities, third sector organisations and local businesses lie at the heart of all of these projects. Just as initial funding for our own LEAP initiative has come from the Peoples Health Trust, it would now be very helpful to widen the field to other stakeholders who share our vision to transform St George's Park and the Horsefair/Greenhill areas into the sort of sustainable and resilient communities that The Calthorpe Project now represents.
Niki told Carol about the latest development at Calthorpe the imminent installation of a new ecological composting/energy system in the shape of Anaerobic Digestion.
On their website the Project reports its latest news below:-
“We are pleased to announce that we have received planning permission to install our digester. Work is well underway converting our greenhouse into digester storage facility and a volunteer space. Next week we should be installing the solar panels that will heat the digestate (food waste) and turn it into liquid fertilizer and biogas.”
As Carol discovered during her visit this news has now been overtaken by events and an impressive array of solar panels are now in place. All of us here at FoSGP look forward to the day when we can report that our solar driven anaerobic digester is about to reduce energy costs in our area and contribute to its environmental enrichment like the one about to be installed at The Calthorpe Project is going to do in Camden.
In the meantime we look forward to extending and developing our existing networks and bringing them together in St George's Park the People's Park living up to its name on behalf of our community and all of those who contribute toward making it an even greener, healthier and happier place than it is now.
Carol returns with inspiration and a generous gift of marjoram and nasturtium to drive LEAP forward with the backing and understanding of a national model of good practice in sustainable living in central London just a short walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras railway stations.
For details of the principles and values that inspires The Calthorpe Project and which are shared by FoSGP please see the link below.