Saturday, August 09, 2008

Guest Post from Tim Lund: Landfit

Somehow, the longer you go without posting to your blog, the bigger the task of getting back into it seems, so apologies for the lack of posts recently. However, stand by for a veritable flurry of posts as I catch up with what we've been up to over the last few weeks. However, to kick things off I'm delighted to have a guest post from Tim Lund, Sydenham resident, who has been working with others residents to set up Landfit. At the same time that Tim in Sydenham was thinking about the wasted opportunity that many front gardens are, a couple of Brockley residents visited Ute at surgery with a similar idea. The two were put in touch with each other and the result is Landfit. I think this is Green Ladywell's first ever guest post, although I am happy to consider more if you would like to e-mail them to me. Anyway, over to Tim:

‘Landfit’ is a concept - the concept of matching people who want to do some gardening with some garden that wants a gardener. For me the idea goes back a few years to when:

  1. I saw a friend looking after a bit of ground in front of Penge East railway station. She wanted to put some plants in it, and the station operators were happy to give her a space to leave some tools
  2. I read or saw something about Guerrilla Gardeners
  3. I was managing the waiting list for my allotments

I’ve always found untended gardens distressing - a combination of thinking that whoever is responsible for them is missing out, and seeing them as somewhere I could put in things I’ve grown in my own garden. In economic language, supply and demand aren’t matching, and the challenge is how to break down the barriers so that they can. In other words, how to get permission for gardener A to cultivate / look after B’s garden. Or rather B’s garden, but taking into account any number of other parties - neighbours, residents, managers, etc.

Thinking like an economist here gets you to identifying two essential requirements:

  • Information about people wanting to garden, and gardens wanting gardening
  • A flexible and robust contractual arrangement for the parties to a ‘Landfit’ arrangement

Thinking like someone who’s been involved in managing allotments adds another requirement if you want to help such arrangements stick, which is

  • Access to training for would-be gardeners

My experience is that many new gardeners - maybe most - don’t have a very good idea of what gardening involves.

In response to a couple of people from my allotments telling me earlier this year about grants for Local Food growing, I started trying to work up the ideas more fully, and discussing them with other people. This has led to an informal group of ‘Landfitters’ and a web site There’s more going on than is up on the site at the time of writing (Aug 9th), since thanks to the networking we have done, we have been approached by a local Housing Association, Hexagon, with the idea of using the Landfit concept with them.

It’s important for me that Landfit should not be seen as an organisation, and that it doesn’t get bogged down in the business of applying for grants, and then demonstrating that it has met various bureaucratic criteria. When I finished my first attempt to explain the concept, I felt I had to test immediately how it would work at the simplest (grassroots?) level, so what better way of finding out than to go three doors down my street and pitch the idea to the occupiers of a house with such an untended garden. And I really did want to find somewhere to put a dessert gooseberry I’d just been given, and they do have a nice south facing wall it should appreciate … I wasn’t exactly surprised by the cautious reaction, since this was the sort of thing I had been thinking about - how to present the idea, address likely concerns. But we came to an agreement, and it’s all going very happily

It’s hardly surprising that the idea can work as this sort of simple level - and in fact, as I knock the idea around, I discover other people who’ve done exactly the same sort of thing. I also learned of a group in North America, ‘Sharing Backyards‘, that is trying to develop the concept in the same way that we are.

But making the concept work at a local level really requires very little more than having the idea. We had a meeting a while back at which someone told us of a neighbour’s garden that was neglected … and what could be done about it? Well, you just go and ring the bell, introduce yourself, and take it from there! At which point the amateur sociologist in me emerges, and wonders what on earth it is that makes this so difficult. Thanks to making this approach to my neighbours - who I’d never met - I now have that many more friends on my street. I also get into conversation with people passing, and residents of the sheltered housing block overlooking the garden.

For us, working with with Hexagon Housing is going to be a test of the concept at a more complex level. One challenge will be keeping records of gardeners and gardens, and the matches between them. Sometimes the IT developer in me would like to be able to focus simply on this, since it’s not hard to imagine a really cool web site in which gardeners enter their details, garden stakeholders enter theirs, and through the magic of an interactive Web 2.0 site, everyone lives happily ever after. ‘Sharing Backyards’ is already doing this sort of thing, and I have been in contact with them to discuss how their model could be exported to London. However, I think we’ll be able to handle the IT requirements at this stage with an Access database - which is something I can manage.

The main challenge, I think, will be working out what gardening training is required, and delivering it. It would be nice if this could happen informally, in the same way that most people who enjoy gardening have learned what to do - learning from their parents, trial and error and a few books. But this is probably not the best way of learning, and where there are requirements to deliver qualifications that will help people get back into work, as with a Housing Association, something more formal will be required. This is not the time to go into all this, since I’m still developing ideas, and un-thought through thoughts are that interesting to read. I’m going to have to get down to thinking about where funding will come from, and how what we do meets others’ requirements, which will be a learning experience.

That’s just a part of it. We’re always interested to hear from people who are interested, and tell them about what we are doing. If you want to do some Landfitting yourself, what is stopping you? As to the word ‘Landfit’ - it has three ideas to it:

  • Fitting people to bits of land, and vice versa
  • Getting fit by working on a bit of land
  • The slogan a ‘Land fit for heroes’, which was around when allotments where at the peak immediately post the first World War


The Pirate King said...

I'd certainly be interested in something like this. Not that I was great with the gardening anyway, but since injuring my arms, I can't look after my little garden myself and it's a real shame. So if there was someone who enjoyed gardening and could be plied with cups of tea, I'd love something like this as incapacity benefit really doesn't bring in enough to cover the cost of a gardener!

Knit Nurse said...

This is an excellent idea, in fact I have been pondering recently about asking one of my downstairs neighbours if I can look after her garden in exchange for some growing space. The main problem is that the only access to the garden is through her house, and that would make it very difficult to manage on a practical level. I will keep searching...unless you want me to do your garden Howard?!

The Pirate King said...

I'd love that, kk! Shall we chat by email and arrange to see if it works out sensibly for us? Sounds great! I'll have to show you my yarn stash, too!

The Pirate King said...

KK came round today, so, Sue, I'm pleased to report you've got your first garden pact! Thank you for posting about this!

Anonymous said...

Hurray! We have landfitted! Makes all the hours I toiled over my blog last weekend worthwhile!