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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Guerilla Gardening – the community led action

Getting the lowdown on the grassroots action taking place in a suburb near you.

Written by Sally Mumby-Croft

Earlier this year, The Canalside Environment Group initiated an act of guerilla gardening in a North Oxford resident’s estate. Amelia’s Magazine spoke to Moira regarding the reasons behind the action.

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All Illustrations by http://Katy Gromball

How and where did the idea for the Guerilla Gardening come about?

One of our members read about the concept and brought the idea to the group. We are an environmental action group and loved the idea of not waiting for the ‘authorities’ to brighten up wasteland areas. Instead taking it into our own hands by doing something to brighten up an area for the community.

We chose to plant bulbs as we like the idea of them emerging in the spring with many people enjoying them but not knowing how they got there. We also planted a fruit tree that in time we hope will yield fruit that can be picked and shared by the local community. We had some money available in our funds from a grant we had received which paid for the plants.

How did you choose the area to garden and what was the aim for the action?

We looked around our local area for an area of neglected ground that we thought could be cheered up with planting. We were careful to take into account concerns such as whether it was an area that might get trampled by children or whether we were going to affect planting that was already in the area.

The aim of our group is to promote sustainable lifestyles in our local area and help to develop a sense of community. The Group and its activities are led and managed by volunteers. With all our events we actively encourage newcomers to take an active role. We have grown from an initial meeting of 6 people to a community action group with an ever-expanding mailing list.
The group is inclusive to all members of our community and includes support for the local primary school. We welcome anyone with a passion for local environmental change.

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The Canalside Environment Group was formed in November 2005 originally to cover the Waterways, Waterside and Aristotle Lane developments that lie along the canal in North Oxford. As interest in the group has grown locally it has expanded to include the surrounding areas of North Oxford to the west of Woodstock Road.
Local actions initiated by the group include: installing a household battery battery-recycling box outside Phil and Jim School, the production of a Local Food Sourcing Leaflet, to promoting the benefits of cycling, both for the environment and personal health. The group is on a mission to encourage environmental action from the grass roots.

The list of actions they have initiated is certainly admirable. Past events include campaigning to reduce packaging outside Marks and Spencers, to a wildlife walkabout the aim of which is to increase the local communities knowledge of the surrounding wildlife and what can be done to protect the ecosystem.
Other events organised by the environmental volunteers of North Oxford include Christmas Tree Shredding. A simple idea that involves encouraging residents to take chippings back to their gardens or donate the mulche to local allotment holders.
My favourite events are as always the Swap Shops. Where else would I have found my drill and electric screwdriver (for free!) that has provided invaluable during the construction of my degree show at Goldsmiths? Or mourn over the missed opportunity of a hat stand that was swiftly nabbed as soon as it entered the local village hall.
The Swap Shops are now held four times a year in St Margaret’s Institute. They are definitely worth a trip.
The Canalside Environmental group is also rather fantastic at keeping the North Oxford area free of litter picking. Before the Guerillia Garding, the group organised guerilla litter picking, where a team of volunteers would descend on mass to the resident’s estates blitzing them of any rubbish. Whilst at the same time holding composting workshops to push local residents towards the idea of starting their own composts in their back gardens.
As of yet, the group has had no scrapes with the Law. However it is rumoured that the estate managers are not happy with this simple act of creating a more enjoyable landscape for the residents.

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Are you looking to involve more people?

We have only guerilla gardened once so far and there were 3 people involved. We will certainly get more members involved next time.

Do you plan on repeating the action? What has the response been towards the action from the local community?

Yes – as CEG is centered in the new housing developments we have limited scope for guerilla gardening in this area. We think it is such a good idea however that we plan to look elsewhere in Oxford for other sites – probably supporting other community groups.

There has been no reaction yet from the local community because we planted bulbs so they have not appeared yet. I would not expect to hear much response anyway. We didn’t plant a ‘sea’ of daffodils for instance so I think it is more than likely that when our flowers arrive in the spring they will bring a smile to people’s faces and cheer up their day, rather than provoking much reaction.

Our little plum tree is looking well though. We planted it so it would bear fruit for the community in years to come. The grounds maintenance people have been in recently with a strimmer but our little tree has been spared. However THEY are probably wondering where it came from!

Finally, what are your thoughts regarding transition towns? To your knowledge has Oxford looked into becoming one?

Transition Oxford has wound down and folded recently. I think the transition town’s idea is great, however I don’t think a place the size of Oxford, with such a transient population, is quite ready for it.
It is a massive project for a group of volunteers to take on in a town of this size. I think it might work better in a smaller town.
Also, the concept of peak oil is quite central to them and, although I myself am a firm believer in the peak oil concern, I think many people don’t really ‘get it’ yet. CO2 is hard enough to grasp!

Has there been any resistance to the gardening action?

There was some resistance from the local management committee when they inadvertently heard what we were doing because they were concerned we would upset planting plans for the development. We chose our planting area carefully and just went ahead without telling them! That’s what guerilla gardening is all about!

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