Who: Student-led project, consulting with the community, students and landlords.
What: A feasibility study into the idea of a garden share scheme between students and local residents.
Why: To improve social cohesion between residents and students and tackle a five year waiting list for allotments in the area.
Where: Oldfield Park, a residential area close to the University of Bath with a high student population.
When: Beginning of 2009/10 academic year, as phase one of a long term project which is still ongoing.
Students in the University of Bath led a feasibility study (pdf 4.8KB) into the demand and the practicalities of students and residents in the local community working together on the upkeep of student household gardens. This research project emerged to examine and critically assess the idea for a community engagement project within Oldfield Park, a residential area close to the university with a high student population.
The ‘Oldfield Park Growing Together’ project originally sought to match underutilised student household gardens with local people who wish to grow their own food, thus responding to a lack of allotments within Bath. The complexity of this project, matching residents, student and landlords in developing the scheme, led to this project being developed in phases. A research phase wasn carried out over the 09/10 academic year
The students conducted research through both quantitative and qualitative means; distributing questionnaires to students, local residents and landlords, alongside conducting semi-structured interviews and attending local community meetings. They collaborated with similar schemes that already exist such as the Bath Area Garden Share (BAGS), part of Transition Bath and Bath Organic Group (BOG), and taking inspiration from existing garden share schemes such as the one in Totnes, Devon.
Carrying out the study has shaped the initial idea, to create a scheme which is more viable for the local community. In addition to this, a variety of other projects have arisen from the feasibility study and connections this research made with community groups.
The aims of the feasibility study were to assess the demand for the project among all of the stakeholders against the following criteria:
- There must be enough student willingness to let growers take over their gardens
- There must be sufficient growers available to operate in these gardens
- Landlords must be willing to encourage the use of their gardens
- The residents of Oldfield Park need to support the project both actively and in principle.
The overall objectives of the project in the long term are to increase social cohesion between the local residents of Oldfield Park and the many students also living in that area of Bath. The hope is that this will create and improve dialogue between students and local residents, which will work towards improving relations.
Results and outcomes
What worked well
Carrying out a feasibility study gave us the opportunity to truly reflect upon our ideas to ensure a more sustainable approach had been adopted for what is a complex project, managing relationships between local residents, students and landlords. We were able to spend time listening to the needs of the community and developing partnerships, engaging students in this process from the very start, rather than focusing on the volunteering opportunities available.
This type of volunteering was new to Bath University; however the evidence from the students is that this experience of being involved with the community in the developmental stages of the project has been highly rewarding. Students have enjoyed gaining insights into how the community interacts and being able to escape the ‘student bubble,’ whilst participating in an experience which has provided them with leadership, team work and research experience.
An enthusiastic approach from the student volunteers was vital to the success of this project. This was achieved through engaging a core group of four students from the People and Planet society to lead the project, who had a passion and interest in the subject, which encouraged them to take ownership of the project.
The students became visible within the community; getting involved with local community meetings, being involved with Litter Picking Day, as well as carrying out a street survey as part of their research. By having a presence in the centre of Oldfield Park, the scheme was actively presented and discussed in more detail and on a personal level with local people. This was a key success of the work of the students who led the project, and has allowed the project to begin to challenge cultural perceptions.
“Having the group (in the broadest sense) who are often blamed for community problems being the ones who are seen to be proactive in building a stronger community has given the project considerable credibility.”
Carrying out a feasibility study also allowed more time to consider the way in which the project should be approached, with the opportunity to produce more targeted and relevant advertising of the scheme. The mass of promotion surrounding this project went a long way to raising awareness and importantly, intrigue, about the project among both the community and students. As the project is likely to appeal to only a select few people it was important to advertise as much as possible to find them.
This project relied upon collaboration with a number of community partners. We have been able to forge connections with our local councillor and local organisations, such as BOG and BAGS, who were able to speak to prospective residents and students to inspire them about the possibilities of the scheme. The project also benefitted from the support received from both the Community Liaison Coordinator and the Community Projects Officer, who are based within the universities.
Each of these partnerships brought particular skills and experiences; for example, the Student Community Partnership (SCP) staff were knowledgeable about the area of Oldfield Park, about which local councillors to link with, which local resident meetings to attend, what residents want from students and the problems within the area which are linked to students. They were also very supportive of the project and often helped with focus on the main actions needed for the scheme to go forward.
The feasibility study also generated a dialogue with the local community and led to a variety of other sister projects. In particular a link was found with a number of schools within Oldfield Park. As the project ties into the theme of tidying up space and environmental sustainability issues, there is the opportunity for students to give interactive sessions around organic gardening. This connects into the school curriculum and the local councils’ Eco-Schools programme.
What didn't work well
The process of creating a feasibility study has proven to be highly useful, however this can be a challenging process. We ran an advertising campaign to gain awareness of the project; however it was difficult to advertise it as a research project as it seemed to suggest the project was already running.
Secondly, conducting the feasibility study was a very useful and innovative step in our volunteering practices. However if we were to repeat a similar project again, we would need to consider further the usage and dissemination of the final report. This could include creating a summary version of the report, which would be useful for engaging senior members of staff or funding applications.
It is too early to ascertain the tangible results of the project as a whole, as a pilot of the garden share scheme is being run in the 09/10 academic year, however there is optimism within the community that the scheme will improve the appearance of the local area. However the main challenge of conducting this research study has been in maintaining the momentum around the project as it continues as many of the students involved in this phase have now graduated.
- Working with students who have an interest and passion for the subject was achieved through targeting recruitment towards relevant societies
- Training was provided for the students in best practice around community engagement
- It was important to invest in marketing and advertising this project, to gain support and enthusiasm. Press release (PDF 92KB)
- Establishing community connections has been vital, providing in-kind support for the project and training
- Targeted recruitment, quality over quantity
- It is important to be visible in the community and among the student population to raise awareness of the project
- Give students the freedom to be creative, whilst still working to a defined brief
- Marketing and advertising are crucial to success of a project like this, as it requires a broad base of support from students and the community.
Name: Anna Boneham
Name of organisation: University of Bath