No green shoots, but there’s life at the grassroots

It seems an age since any politician has been brave enough to mention green shoots, but things are certainly stirring at the grassroots, if not at the macro economic level.

As we continue to shape our definitions of the Big Society, one theme is emerging: some of the most effective drivers of social change are coming from the bottom up. Communities are realising that while they may not be able to solve the international banking crisis, they can make a real difference to the quality of life in the areas closest to them.

Often, they will need just a modest amount of moral support, technical help and financial input to turn a bright idea into a sustainable project that can create lasting benefits.

We at Groundwork have been putting this formula into practice since the early 1980s and as we celebrate our 30th birthday we are – to coin another phrase from a previous era – going back to basics.

We are teaming up with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in a major campaign to get Britain gardening and help to transform communities. Our good friends at Marks & Spencer are supporting us in this endeavour.

Research by the RHS has shown that horticulture has a profound social and economic impact on communities. People who take part in its Britain in Bloom and It’s Your Neighbourhood programmes report improvements in community spirit, better health and wellbeing, falling crime figures and increased investment by businesses.

As part of our celebration, landscape designer and broadcaster Chris Beardshaw is designing a series of Urban Oasis gardens to showcase some of the most challenging urban environments where gardening, community work and good quality landscape design have brought people together and yielded powerful social benefits.

His gardens, created in conjunction with Groundwork trusts across the country, will be featured at the major RHS shows this year, showing an expert gardening audience what can be achieved from apparently uninspiring beginnings.

Chris says: ‘The green space around us – where we live and work – has a fundamental effect on our emotions and behaviour. It is well documented that in areas where these spaces are neglected and poorly designed we see strong evidence of social unrest and it is easy to see why when you stand in these spaces yourself.

‘Whatever the green need there is a solution and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t have to mean high cost – the Urban Oasis gardens showcase design solutions which can make such a difference in people’s lives.’

We are not claiming that a community allotment or a gated alleyway planted with hanging baskets can save the world. But that allotment or alleyway will make an appreciable difference to the quality of life of those who use the space. Multiply that across hundreds of similar projects and it starts to look interesting.

While everything in the wider ‘garden’ might not be rosy, we are doing our bit to help communities blossom.

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