Lobby highlights need for political support for community food-growing programme

Political backing at every level is essential in ensuring the success of community food-growing schemes, according to proponents of the movement.

Islington turns disused car park into allotments. Image: HW
Islington turns disused car park into allotments. Image: HW

In the London Borough of Islington, that support has allowed a £10m disused car park to be turned into allotments.

The authority, which has put £1m into its Edible Islington campaign, has made a commitment to increasing not only community growing sites but also allotments.

Speaking at the London Parks & Green Spaces Forum on growing food on 12 March, Islington's principal parks manager Andrew Bedford explained: "It is a challenging time out there but we have used gardening to engage with communities and that has been very successful, which has led to resources."

Project and strategy manager Oliver Burke, who oversees the area's community food-growing programme, agreed: "Without the political backing, we would not have seen this pot of money."

As part of the scheme, a community allotment has been created in a former car park at St Luke's community centre, in addition to a new council allotment, which has statutory footing, on another disused car park.

Burke added that the land value of the second car park was around £10m. "It took real political conviction not to just sell off the site," he revealed.

London mayor Boris Johnson's food champion Rosie Boycott pointed out that schemes need not cost a lot, but required support.

"Community projects come from the bottom up, but there also needs to be a top-down approach to help with enabling," she explained.

But 2009 CABE scholar Pamela Smith - a horticulturist for Lantra and English Heritage who has studied community food growing in the USA and Canada - added there were concerns among some park managers about the trend.

"Is it something that is going to be imposed on a park?" she questioned. "I am 50/50 on food growing in parks but it can be a way of bringing in new audiences. This may be the one thing that brings together agriculture, production horticulture and amenity horticulture."

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