Planting Seeds: Future Conversations at Belville Community Garden Trust

Pam Candea, Facilitator and trainer, writes:

Future Conversations is a series of guided conversations to enable people to explore their hopes, fears and needs for the next 5-20 years. We will explore facts and feelings, and provide processes and information to grow the confidence and skills to shape the future positively.  The conversations at Belville were held over 3 months during Spring and Summer 2019.

I was delighted to find out there was a group near me who wanted to embark on Future Conversations.  Belville Community Garden Trust is based in Greenock.

From the Belville websiteResidents in the Belville area of Greenock campaigned for years to prevent an area of derelict land they live near becoming an unwelcoming place and eyesore despite the stunning location with views across the Clyde. They formed an action group to source funding in order to transform the derelict area, previously congested with high flats to turn it into a community garden.

The community’s vision became a reality in 2014 when the garden was built and they formed a registered charity to ensure the area and activities were sustainable in the long term. The garden is managed by a Trustee board made up of local people with a vested interest in the regeneration of the area.  Belville Community Garden is now a thriving and lively place with many local people visiting the area. Belville Community Garden coordinates local schools biodiversity and environmental projects including John Muir Awards, community arts and health projects as well as connecting similar third sector organisations across Inverclyde.

From the time I met Geri Sinclair, Volunteer Coordinator at Belville, at the January 2019 London facilitator training I knew that we could work well together and could help to create a cohesive FC group.

We started on a Wednesday afternoon in March – everyone was a bit uncertain about how it would go, including Geri and myself and another facilitator who had volunteered to help, Trisha Orr.  We met in the dining area of Belville’s large catering kitchen where the project’s chef creates tasty and nutritious meals using food from Fareshare.   The project also distributes fresh and frozen food from Fareshare to its community.

In a lively atmosphere where people from other projects walked through the area we were working in and sometimes stopped to chat, we worked through the first session.  

At the end of one session, under the smiley face request for feedback one person commented:  “It is good to hear people care.  I am used to people rolling their eyes everytime I open my mouth.  The conversation needs to be had, no matter how hard it is.” And another: “Getting to know and feel comfortable with all of the individuals in the group and the topic.”  Under the unhappy face:  “Concerned about what is happening in the world right now,” and “Would be nice to spend time outdoors in fresh air..”

We did indeed spend time outdoors in almost every subsequent session, taking advantage of the space at Belville to 

  • have a slow silent walk at least twice, 
  • visit the raised beds and butterfly gardens, 
  • just stop and look at the amazing view to the hills across the Clyde, 
  • reflect on how a tree’s structure can be used to investigate our own well-being, and 
  • see some fox cubs playing in the sunshine!  

We also spent time outdoors for paired and group discussions and in setting up a planter for this group to experiment with their big idea arising from the Future Conversations sessions:  grow vegetables especially for making soup, providing a soup kit to people to go home and make their own soup from fresh locally grown ingredients. The group hope to further develop this idea to provide veg boxes in the next year and to hold gardening training sessions with intergenerational groups.

The group loved the idea of the Joanna Macy Work That Reconnects spiral (which Trisha drew beautifully as a ‘blown’ dandelion), and spent some time reminiscing about dandelion memories and embraced the steps in the process.  In the honouring our pain section of the spiral, people said they felt able to express their fears for the future whilst at the same time being supported and buoyed up by the others in their group of three.

We had an amazing synergistic feedback session after Joanna Macy’s “over the hedge” exercise where participants envision the future and report back.  The reporting back yielded overlapping visions, with people starting their feedback with “My story builds on yours by ….” 

We also had time to create a collage of ideas about what community means and what Belville could look like in the near future.  

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