Railway Gardens: A sustainable community space designed by residents
Splott is a densely-populated urban area of Cardiff where residents have come together to bring back the natural environment and place it at the heart of their community activities. In Spring 2021, Green Squirrel CIC were awarded £460,808 of National Lottery funding to redevelop Railways Gardens, a disused plot of land, into a unique outdoor and indoor space for the community to design, run and take part in environmentally-friendly activities that will bring the community together.
This includes providing a building designed in partnership with the community - created from recycled shipping containers, eight shipping container business pods, a community allotment, and a wildlife-friendly outdoor space.
We spoke to Hannah Garcia, Director at Green Squirrel, to talk about engaging with the local community, community ownership, making a positive difference for the environment, and shared learning:
Engaging with the community
“Our work began several years ago when Green Squirrel worked with Edible Adamsdown, to kickstart a community garden in the area that had been neglected over time. The group was so successful, it led to an ambition to expand and find a place for an indoor and outdoor community space. That’s when the conversation with the local community took a wider scope.
We ran community events to ask residents what the best things were about the community and what they’d like to see improved. These were held across accessible community spaces such as Oasis Refugee Centre, the local schools and One Fox Lane - a community co-sharing space. We used visual prompts to make things as easy as possible for people to get involved and to engage with us.
There was a huge response. People came up with so many different ideas of what we could do, how we could engage with other groups that we could partner with, and people offered up their skills and time to help too.
Once we had a general idea of what people were looking for we started asking more specific questions. We held family events and mapping exercises with local schools to help shape what the buildings should look like. We experimented with all sorts of methods of engagement so we could reach as many people as possible, to make it accessible, and get as wide an opinion as possible.”
Giving the community ownership of the project
“We’ve been supported by an advisory group for the project: 11 local residents, people from outside the area who have a local connection, and representatives of community organisations. They include Willows High School, Al-Ikhlas Mosque, Oasis, Benthyg – a lending library group, Repair Café, and other organisations that can represent their service users. They’ve been an enormous help.
Local schools have been working with us to provide enterprise opportunities with pupils. Other groups have told us they’d use the facility ad-hoc too, Al-Ikhlas would like to hold Eid celebrations and No Fit State Circus would be interested in holding an outdoor circus.
Making a positive environmental difference
“When we did our gap analysis, we found there was a lack of opportunities for people to live more sustainably. This could be fixing your bike, mending your clothes or growing your own food. There was very little in the area that had a regular presence, and there wasn’t the infrastructure to help people lead sustainable lifestyles; no community fridge, no kitchen for people to have a food-waste cook-up, a clothes-swap facility, and so on.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of new projects have rapidly developed as a result of resident action, including the Splo-Down Food Coop and the StarGarAllot growing group; so while the project will help provide resources and facilities for sustainable living, an important aspects of it is also supporting and amplifying the community members who are already making that happen.
We want to make it easy for people to embed low-carbon and biodiverse habits into their lifestyle without having to leave the area, or having to spend extra money.
Benthyg, for instance, will have a “library of things” permanently on site. That will be a massive asset for the community because people will be able to borrow something at any time. There will be a permanent place for the repair café, the food co-op and for Play Wales to deliver play ambassador training, as well as for Growing Street Talk – a community gardening group.
The site will showcase sustainable ways to do things to inspire others. For instance, open drainage systems demonstrate efficient water use, rainwater harvesting, and biodiversity-friendly planting. Solar panels will power our toilet, we’ve a place to sustainably grow food. We want to show what can be achieved in a small urban space given the right infrastructure.”
Knowledge-sharing with other communities
“We’ve been making connections with other projects doing similar things. We’re interested in knowledge sharing and arranging visits with different sites so that we can share different ways of doing things.
We’ve been lucky to be in touch with other National Lottery funded groups namely Welcome to Our Woods in Treherbert and their Rhondda Skyline project. We’re looking at ways of partnering with each other so that we can share ideas and learning For example we’re exploring things like tree-planting swap or, sharing aspect of our project and we theirs, or partner with the different schools so that young people can find out more about the urban and rural environments where they live.
We want to learn from them in terms of whether we could potentially run a tree-growing activity or community woodland, which is what they’re doing in Treherbert.”
Thank you National Lottery players
“The overwhelming feeling is of gratitude to The National Lottery Community Fund for taking this vision into a reality. It’s wonderful. We held a small event at our site shortly after we were able to announce the grant and so many people were delighted, supportive and excited about the work. This wouldn’t be possible without support from National Lottery players.”
National Lottery players raise £36 million each week for good causes throughout the UK. Find out more about National Lottery funding in Wales.