England & Wales, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society

North Kelvin Meadow: insights into community empowerment in action

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Community empowerment is having far-reaching and positive effects for an area of Glasgow, North Kelvin Meadow. An ex-football pitch, ignored and in a state of disrepair since the early 90s, the sale of the land and planned development by Glasgow City Council was stopped and this area of urban wild land is now run by a community group who has worked hard to make this a much valued and appreciated community hub.

The North Kelvin Meadow has allotments, a beehive (originally declined by the Glasgow Botanic Gardens to host), a community orchard, a community garden, treehouses, structured and unstructured areas of play for children, and most importantly, wild land which supports native pollinators and wildlife. The local community live in a built-up area of tenements and flats surrounding the meadow and typically don’t have access to a garden; the raised bed allotments are £5 to rent for the year and reallocated each year depending on use and who still wants them. The allotments aren’t private, and anyone can walk through the land and see fresh fruit and veg growing in the middle of Glasgow. There are no gates to close at night and it’s a space mostly for children, to explore and enjoy a more natural environment, but it is of great importance to adults too. Wild green areas aren’t just good for wildlife, we’re beginning to understand just how vital access to natural spaces is for boosting mental well-being, plus not cultivating the land costs next to nothing to maintain for local authorities.

The North Kelvin community have always been keen to work with the Council, but this was pre-2015 Community Empowerment Act and although the area, by way of the Children’s Wood of North Kelvin Meadow, has been recently granted a 25-year lease of the land, the path to community ownership wasn’t easy. The community group was taken to court by Glasgow City Council for use of the land and although the residents who were championing community ownership of North Kelvin Meadow could not continue to fight the case in court Scottish Government stepped in and ruled against the proposed planning application and development.

Douglas A Peacock, founder of North Kelvin Meadow said of lessons learned, “Try if you can, to start these things before a private developer has decided to buy the land, difficult as that is often the spur to mobilise a community into action. But, if possible, get the land categorised correctly in the City Plan and therefore safeguarded before the money gets talked about”.

Local authorities are vowing to work with communities and listen to their specific wants and needs, South Lanarkshire Council’s encouragement for every community to get involved in creating their own neighbourhood plan. The lease route is a good option, the local council keeps control of the land and leases it out to people to grow vegetables and wildflowers, councils might in some cases offer help with things that might be out of a community’s budget like fencing and insurance. The North Kelvin Meadow keep a self-funded litter picker tied to the fence outside of the park, which has resulted in less litter being dropped.

This approach creates a circular community, a place for the community to go, enjoy green space, walk their dogs, take their kids to explore, grow vegetables and flowers, and pick up after themselves because no one else is going to do it.

Community orchards are also an easy way to grow food, teach people about food production and can be kept easily by the community themselves. North Kelvin Meadow has an orchard made up of dwarf apple and pear trees, locals pitch in to prune and harvest the trees. These community-run wild areas are good for health, good for the environment, and cost a fraction of what a designated public park might cost local authorities, they don’t need tarmac and over cultivated areas.

Community empowerment requires commitment to build relationships between public bodies and communities; local authorities will need a strategy in place to consult and work with communities. The importance of green space and access to the outdoors, especially in cities with majority flat dwellers, should be a priority of councils in terms of funding. Speaking to communities and identifying areas that could be used – or are being used – in this way will ensure they can be protected from potential sale and development. Increasing green space and wild land is important for biodiversity in the heart of our cities and important to reduce health and social inequalities, which could in turn create budget savings elsewhere – prevention being better than cure.

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