From small beginnings - A story of urban community growing
Around 50% of the UK population lives in terrace housing or flats – often meaning they have little to no outdoor space, let alone a garden. Like many across the UK, I live in a terraced house with a tiny, paved yard that gets virtually no sun.
I always assumed that because I didn’t have my own outdoor green space, I couldn’t garden – I viewed it as a hobby or activity for those with the luxury of space and time. In 2018, my mind was completely changed when I got together with my neighbours to start an urban garden!
If you’ve never seen one, an alleyway garden sounds a bit odd, but it’s perfect for growing. At least one side of the alleyway gets direct sun all day, there’s plenty of space to grow both vertically and horizontally, and it transforms a space which often may be a fly-tipping hot spot to an urban oasis with wildlife. Our alleyway, which ran between 80 houses in central Manchester, was previously unused, unmanaged and unkept, but one summer evening a few of us gathered with gloves, bin bags and weed scrapers, to transform it into something special.
We collected the rubbish, pulled up the excess weeds, and from there our alleyway was our reclaimed space. At first, it was just a few plastic pots with shrubs to ‘green up’ the space. As time went on, the collection of plants grew to bedding plants and bulbs, until in 2020, we were awarded funds from Manchester City Council’s Neighbourhood Investment Fund. With this money, we built multiple raised beds, bulk ordered compost and invested in tools and seeds.
Suddenly, a few flowerpots turned into a space which now was growing potatoes, beans, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, lettuce and more. Each evening, neighbours can pop out into the alley and grab key ingredients for their meals – often it is neighbourhood children being sent out by their parents to pick them. This is a fantastic way to teach children where our food comes from, improve the food security for many, as well as reducing the environmental impact we have as individuals.
It’s been four years now since the alleyway project has started and it is still going strong. This year we have sweetcorn, pumpkins, cucumbers and kale growing in our community garden. Anyone can use the space in whatever way works best for them – the transformed alleyway space has hosted cocktail classes, bonfires, barbeques and birthday parties over the past few years. It’s a community-led green space that can be used by one person or by 15 at once without feeling crowded and it requires no minimum time requirement from anyone. It’s there if you want to spend 10 minutes tidying up or hours planting and enjoying the fresh air. For me, it’s offered a passion and interest in gardening I never knew was possible.
The alleyway highlighted to me that I truly loved gardening and being outdoors, so much so that I applied for an allotment so I could focus on growing more food. After a waiting list miles long, finally, an allotment space was available! I was told it was ‘only’ a quarter plot, roughly 4m x 10m, which I was disappointed with since I thought I would feel limited in what I could grow. I had no clue how huge this space actually was! It’s large enough that I have 8 large beds, a greenhouse and of course, pathways. This space has become one of my favourite places to spend my time and it is a space I feel my best in.
This year, I have 25 different edible things growing – more variety than I would normally buy at a supermarket! I use companion planting and intercropping to make the most of the space in the raised beds. This means instead of only growing one thing per raised bed, I can grow three or four things next to each other, this is great as I can grow more variety too. Working with small spaces means more people can have a plot of their own, and you create a space that is fully used and manageable.
Of course, I garden in a way that aligns with my beliefs, which means that I avoid using pesticides or animal-based products, and I use as many methods as possible to positively impact the environment. For example, using a no-dig method, which provides rich soil to grow in. I also use spent mushroom compost, a peat-free compost which is rich in nutrients and ideal to grow vegetables in. This avoids the need of using animal-based products, but my plants do not suffer - in fact - I often end up with an abundance which I freeze or store, as well as share with friends.
Growing my own food has played such an important role in my goal to reduce my environmental impact as much as I can, particularly in a way that feels like it fits into my everyday life and is sustainable to me. Growing my own food has not only increased my understanding of how the climate crisis impacts us, but also how the cost of food can be such a barrier to so many people eating fresh. I feel fortunate I can eat organic, homegrown food throughout the year.
Gardening first was impossible, then a hobby, and now an important skill. I’m not a professional gardener or farmer; I learn as I go and sometimes things don’t work out. I am, however, always happy I tried and I’ve learned for the next time. Why not give it a try? You may discover you love it!
We’re celebrating National Allotments Week as part of our Grow Green campaign. Transformation of our food system must happen at every level, from the carrots in your back garden to the farmers that grow our beans and cabbages, and the national and international policies which influence how all our food is produced. Through the Grow Green campaign, The Vegan Society advocates for a planet friendly, vegan farming system. We push for better farming policies to support those who grow plant proteins and vegetables and share knowledge on the transition to animal free farming. Find out more on our Grow Green campaigns pages.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.