My return to the workplace after the seasonal break, back to the office and to team mates, and to the detailed tasks to begin to piece together what is, for us, a major undertaking, felt pretty good. First up was rethinking the list of tasks, meetings, staff head-to-heads, legal agreements, leasing arrangements….it’s long list and for the next two years it will never get any shorter.
Achievements of the first days included a convivial meeting with members of Sandwell Council’s legal and other teams for leases and other legal ins and outs for all three of our project sites, a good team get together, and a packed meeting of our user-led Health and Well Being Service Committee.
We have two well established community farms and gardens, both of which were built from scratch on variously derelict land: Malthouse Garden, on a parcel of land formerly occupied by a 20 storey tower block, and Salop Drive Market Garden, on a derelict allotment site. Now, we are about to start the lengthy process of developing a third community agriculture resource on a similarly derelict former allotment site, adjacent to the part now occupied by a thriving allotments community. The leases, granted by the Council, and originally for 25 and 20 years respectively, are now 14 and 9 years, which makes fundraising for significant capital investment impossible. Add to that picture the securing of sufficient funding to invest in a third major scheme, and the opportunity arose to deal with long leases on all three sites of 25 years, subject to Secretary of State approval, which we have already obtained for the new site.
The team get together was an opportunity to reconnect after the seasonal break, and to talk about the new project and its implications for key team members. Everyone (11 of us, variously full and part time, or sessional) is quietly excited about the new scheme despite already working small daily miracles in delivering a complex service to many of the most vulnerable people in society, living in areas of significant deprivation in the post industrial scene of the six Black Country towns that form the borough of Sandwell. In future blogs I will undoubtedly speak more of the conditions of the Black Country urban folk, and what they have to endure, the chief ingredients in the mix being in a low (or no) wage economy, poor health, and a poor quality urban environment.
Our Committee, which has been in existence for a long decade, is at the heart of our user-led, social model. People from all walks of life, many with multiple and complex disabilities, health, economic and social problems dedicate their time to guiding and shaping the services and activities we deliver. The buzz of enthusiasm apparent among staff was reflected among the members of the committee.
I hope as time goes by people reading this blog will form a picture of what our community agriculture initiative is, does, and is all about. Rather than launch into long and boring descriptions of this and that, the story will be interwoven into these blogs over time. If you want to find out more, our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-Opportunities-Ideal-For-All/ is pretty lively, and we have a website (much in need of a makeover) at http://www.sandwellfoodnetwork.org
So I reach the end of the first week in an upbeat state of mind, pleased by the first small achievements and the positivity of people. I’m tempted to say it won’t last, but that isn’t strictly true. The upbeat, positive side will come in fits and starts, and will be mirrored by times of absolute desperation and seething frustration. I know. I’m close to old trout status and I’ve been around several blocks, and have been round this one before. It requires a mixture of vision, clarity, passion, flexibility, adaptability, staying power and true, true grit, and sometimes it all gets just too much. So I am quietly savouring this small moment, including writing this blog, which will form a narrative that I hope is worth sharing.