Springing from the half acre of unused and unkempt land at the rear of North Edinburgh Arts the North Edinburgh Grows project has created a growing space with art at the heart, right in the middle of Muirhouse. The project takes inspiration from Scottish gardens such as Jupiter Art Land, Little Sparta, the Hidden Gardens, and from gardens as far away as New York, Paris and Rotterdam. The garden has been developed to appeal to the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. North Edinburgh Arts is a well-established organisation, running a venue well-used by many members of the local community. Prior to its redevelopment, the open space behind the venue had the potential to be a fantastic resource but was unattractive and under-used. North Edinburgh Grows involved the local community in the creation of an open space that is attractive, productive and creative, vitally important in an area that is characterised by its lack of quality green space and high levels of multiple deprivation. Consultation was carried out over three years and indicated, almost universally, the desire for something positive to happen with the space and the concept of a creative community garden was very well received. The creation of this quality community outdoor space has almost doubled the activity area and scope of North Edinburgh Arts. Officially opened in June 2014 this dynamic and creative community green space has been shaped by and inspires users of all ages who come to get creative, garden, connect with others, relax and play. 160 local residents were part of the launch picnic, with visits to North Edinburgh Arts rising by an average of over 600 per month in the period since then. The design, influenced by the community, devised by Anta Architects, and funded by the Big Lottery, has paved the way for a functional and beautiful green space, incorporating community plots, native plants and fruit trees, dry stone walling, growing space for the centre’s café, and a range of integrated artworks including a sculptural sandpit, insect hotels and a willow dome. Art is at the heart of the garden, embedded into every area and aspect making the space truly distinctive and unique. Many community gardens are being developed to great effect across the city, and we learned from these whilst progressing our own project. However, North Edinburgh Grows took a very different approach incorporating the ethos of North Edinburgh Arts as a creative organisation into the fabric of the garden from the outset. Natalie Taylor, artist in residence, was involved in the from the beginning as a key contributor to the design and construction team, leading on and using her skills within the design and build of the free play, seating and planting areas, slotting in subtle creative interventions and increasing the use of recycled materials. In December 2014 North Edinburgh Grows was selected as the winner of the creative category in the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum’s Best Practice in Community Regeneration Awards, please see http://www.scotregen.co.uk/surf-awards/surf-awards-2014-summary/ for further details and for the project blog please go to https://northedinburghgrows.wordpress.com/
Lying at the centre of the harsh physical environment of Muirhouse the North Edinburgh Grows project has provided a place to create, recycle, try out new ideas, grow, read, rest and play. The additional 600 a month visits to NEA since June illustrate the draw of the garden for local residents of all ages, with more people taking part in positive outdoor activities, relating to community growing, the arts, and play. Detailed evaluation to come during the first two years of the project will tease out the range of ways in which the project has increased local wellbeing. From 2009 to 2012 27 local organisation and over 250 people were involved directly in consultation about the need for the garden, what would be in it, and what it would look like. Additionally a visual preference survey attracted more than 1,200 opinions on 100 images of public and private spaces, with the top ten favourites used as garden design inspiration and to spark consultation discussions. Favourite images demonstrated playful and magical qualities which were taken on board at the outset by Anta Architects, and continued through the project to date by the artist in residence. For example the live willow dome, crossing the pathway, is child height and has portholes, creating a playful space for hide and seek, storytelling and wish making, and the oversized sandpit has a shipwreck theme arising directly from parent consultation workshops. The overall design of the garden allows for community groups to manage a third of the space through designated community plots. Each group, drawn from the North Edinburgh Area, has complete control over the design and operation of their plot and had a budget allocated for fixtures and fittings to allow them to realise their vision. Each plot boundary is marked out with different fencing styles, picket, dry stone wall, willow weave etc, which are visually stimulating and friendly demarcations, over which many chats are held and cups of tea enjoyed. Local people who have never gardened before are getting their hands dirty and gaining experience in growing their own fruit and vegetables, learning and sharing new skills. Parents are bringing their younger children to play in the garden, with buckets and beach balls a feature of last year’s hot summer, and older children are ‘colonising’ the space in their own creative ways, marking routes in and out of the tree stumps, spiral, tunnel and slide. These words from the active Tenants and Residents in Muirhouse (TRIM) Facebook page sum up the impact the garden has had on the local community, in a relatively short period of time: ‘In front of up to 200 residents on what was a fantastic day, the Council leader said how impressed he was with the garden and the work that had been put in to it since his last visit just a few weeks ago. Children played happily in the sand whilst adults enjoyed garden grown Elderflower drink and a walk around the beautiful space. From all at TRIM - Well done’. The plan is for the project to grow this sense of cohesion and empowerment, leading to greater community ownership of this fantastic space and to make sure the innovative and creative elements found in the garden ripple out across the area, over the intensive eight year regeneration programme that has just started.