At the grassroots…

This is the mission statement from our sister blog, Grassroots Alternatives:

It’s easy to know what you’re against in a dysfunctional, unsustainable and increasingly dystopian world. Railing against the world we have to endure may make you feel better but…does it lead to positive change? We know that the political, economic and social system we inhabit is rapidly heading towards its use by date and that we have to bring about radical change if we’re going to survive. There are many ways of bringing about the change that’s needed. What this project is about is what can be done in the here and now to boost sustainability, community cohesion and neighbourhood resilience in an increasingly volatile world. It’s about building the new world we need and want in the decaying shell of the old one we currently endure.

Over the years in our various guises, one of our core aims has been to support and encourage grassroots level projects that make a real difference in the neighbourhoods they operate in. What kind of difference? Well, it’s about a lot more than the physical difference a project can make. It’s about the sense of empowerment and ownership residents get from working together to make their neighbourhood a better place to live. It’s also about starting to bring power down to where it belongs in the community where we’re accountable to each other. Aside from that, it’s also about building a sense of solidarity and cohesion in a neighbourhood – something that’s needed more than ever in these troubled times.

The projects we feature in The Directory on Grassroots Alternatives vary a lot. In part, that’s down to the task in hand, the area they operate in and the type of people involved. Each have their own part to play in building the kind of world we want. However, we do have a soft spot for the kind of spontaneous organising that turns into a long term project but never formalises itself because there’s actually no need to:) Below are a couple of posts from the Grassroots Alternatives blog featuring one such project:

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You don’t need permission to grow food:) 22.3.23

We’ve written a lot about community food growing. We’ve written about the need for it in an age of increasing food insecurity. We’ve written about how it empowers people and strengthens community bonds and solidarity.

Here are just five of the many posts we’ve written about it:

What’s the best location for plots to grow food? 10.3.23

Why the question of land is crucial to the future we want… 21.1.23

Community vegetable plots – actually doing it:) 2.12.22

Residents are greening Knowle 16.11.22

A community vegetable plot in every park? 22.8.22

We’ve also written about guerrilla gardening, which for some people may be the only way they can find the land they need to grow the food they want. That’s the point we’re trying to get across with the graphic at the top of this post. Namely that you don’t need permission to grow food:)

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Smashing it in Laindon:) 29.3.23

We’ve got a resources and campaigns directory listing a lot of grassroots projects in Essex where Alternative Estuary operate and in Avon where Grassroots Alternatives operate: The Directory. Pretty much all of the projects listed have some kind of formal structure.

However, to think that what happens in a neighbourhood starts and ends with a structured project would be wrong. There are also a number of informal initiatives organised by neighbours that get a lot done but have no structure as such, let alone an online presence. So while our directories offer a picture of what’s happening at the grassroots, it’s not a complete one.

We don’t want to get into a debate about structured projects versus informal initiatives, The only point we would want to make is that in our view, there’s a place for both plus the grey areas in between. It’s down to what approach works best in a particular neighbourhood.

Over the life of this blog, we’ve been featuring the community garden run by residents in Nursery Gardens in Laindon up by the A127. The images at the top of this post are from the latest work party. This is the last post we published about the garden: You don’t need permission to grow food:) 22.3.23. This was one we published just over a year ago: Taking over one (or more) beds at a time:) 22.3.22. The garden has been going in one form or another for over a decade.

The importance of the garden is not just about the food it produces. It’s also about building a sense of solidarity on a fairly isolated estate. Solidarity that in increasingly troubled times is needed more than ever. For a project to exist for over a decade is testament to the recognition by people in a neighbourhood of the need for stability and cohesion. Working on a joint project is one way of building that.

What’s the secret of its success? Simply that it’s run by residents for residents. No one has parachuted in to act as a saviour for the neighbourhood. How does it work? Here’s an example – the Sensible Garden which is a resident maintained pocket garden in South Norwood. One that’s now over six years old. Basically, it’s about trusting people to do the right thing by each other rather than relying on a leader and a hierarchy…

Questions and answers

Is there a committee? NO

Do you have meetings? NO

Is it run by the council? NO

Is it run by a church? NO

Do I have to join a group to come and help? NO

Do I have to know lots about gardening to help out? NO

Do I have to turn up on a regular basis? NO

Can I just go on my own and do weeding or litter picking? YES

Can I go and use the picnic benches at any time? YES

Do I have to pay any money to come and help? NO

Am I allowed to donate plants? YES


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