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An Edible Park – working with Bristol Council’s Parks department

By Sara Venn

Incredible Edible groups are building kind, confident and connected communities across the UK and the world.  Usually these communities are where people live, but sometimes they can be where people work too.

Being Incredible in a city can give groups an opportunity to build communities of people who usually spend their time with their heads down looking at the pavement, encouraging them to see the potential of the people and the space around them.  This story shows how Incredible Edible Bristol have brought some kindness into their business district and built new connections between businesses, the council and the people who live near a park which has been part of Bristol’s history for hundreds of years.

In 2015 Incredible Edible Bristol designed and implemented their Urban Food Trail as a part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. Along the chosen route was a very neglected, and yet historically important park, the Quakers Burial Ground on Redcliffe Way, which had been handed by the Quakers to the city in the mid-20th century. Despite the ongoing engagement with community groups that had been worked on by the city council, it had remained a problematic space. The city council offered it to the group in July and work began on horticulture and apiculture in the park.

The team at Incredible Edible Bristol came to some quick conclusions. The space was a den for anti-social behaviour and they would need the support of outside agencies around that. This meant they engaged with the Streetwise team who support people off the streets, as well as the local police and addiction agencies who would be a key part of supporting people who had begun to use the space for things which made it unsafe for the general public. The team’s aim was to bring the park back into use and to see people using it as a place in the summer to sit and eat lunch, as it is a space that is very close to much of Bristol’s business district.

To begin with this meant an enormous clearing task. Lorry loads of overgrown shrubs were removed along with ivy, ground elder and nettles which had entirely taken over in places. The park was surveyed and it was decided that one third would be used to grow perennial vegetables, in a food forest of sorts, whilst another area would be used as a huge herb garden and the rest would be used for pollinator rich plantings in order to support bees, butterflies and other important invertebrates. The team also engaged a local natural bee keeping organisation, Bee The Change, who worked on appropriate planting as well as putting a hive into the park.

Having engaged with the local community growing group, the team brought together a core group of volunteers to the park, and the work, whilst beginning in 2015, really began to make change throughout the following year. Groups of staff from Marks and Spencer and a local solicitors firm came along and supported the making of compost bins and further clearance and by mid 2016 the team were thrilled to find folk using the park to eat their lunch and sit in, having been reminded that behind the huge wall of shrubs was actually a small, green urban sanctuary.

And in 2018 the park is often filled with people eating lunch, enjoying the space and picking food. Whilst still occasionally having some issues, all in all the park has been brought back into use and the community have a space to use, many of whom are flat dwellers and so often struggle to find safe outdoor space. Whilst the team continue to support the upkeep of beds and borders, the parks team mow the grass and have even been trained to add leaves to the leaf mould bin built by those Incredible solicitors on a cold, February day!

If you’ve been inspired to brighten up a space near you, have a look at our Growing in your streets section for some practical tips on what to think about when you start growing on a new site (sign up required).  If you want to start a new group, sign up to access our Getting going set of resources with lots of information and resources.  Or if you want to find a group near you, search our UK map here.