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Collaboration, food and fun in Bristol

By Sara Venn

Here we hear a tale from Incredible Edible Bristol, of how long term collaboration and connecting within a community, has lead to an ongoing and exciting project that is going to help feed a community……

In 2015 Incredible Edible Bristol began working with Severnside Community Rail Partnership on their Severn Beach Line. This line leads out of the city to Avonmouth and onto Severn Beach and whilst working at the station in Avonmouth the team began to talk with the Avonmouth Community Centre team about food provision in the area. Avonmouth is an area divided from the main city of Bristol in many ways. It is the dock area of the city, where cargo arrives and leaves, and where the population can seem to be quite transient due to this. There is certainly a transient workforce. But once involved in the area, or the village, as it’s referred to by the locals, it’s obvious that not only is there the strongest of communities here, but that they are also immensely welcoming and happy to get stuck in with things that might support change in the area. Avonmouth has a problematic food culture in that the only shops in the village are convenience stores that cater far more for the lunchtime workers than the residents, and many of the local folk rely on the Severn Beach Line to head into the Clifton area of Bristol where there is a Sainsburys, but many struggle bringing a whole weeks shopping back so rely on the convenience stores for toping up. Along the high street there is a bakers and a fish and chip shop, but other than that residents are reliant on public transport or having a car, to get to a shop. The situation is far from ideal.

However, when the Incredible Edible Bristol crew arrived and started working with the community, it was suddenly realised that there was a way to begin to change things and after the station beds were planted in 2015, the group began working with folk to grow in their back gardens as well as helping the community centre to turn their garden into a more edible space. Suddenly there were people growing, talking about their individual projects and sharing recipes and gluts. The group ran some holiday activities for young people in the garden at the community centre, as well as some workshops to support people to make raised beds and seating out of recycled pallets and there was conversation about wildlife gardening and how to support the planet whilst growing food. The community centre and the IEB group held some film and curry nights which were really popular and the conversation turned to what can we do next……

In the meantime the group and Severnside Community Rail Partnership had identified a piece of lost and unloved land just next to the railway station and were pondering how it could be turned into a beautiful and productive space and had begun to clear it and look for permissions from Network Rail to turn it into a garden with and for the community. To begin with corporate volunteer from several large transport organisations came along and helped to clear the space of a million weeds, and worked with the IEB team to make raised beds and seating, and then these groups were mixed with groups from the Community Payback teams, all of whom said that they felt they were really supporting something exciting to happen within the community, which again led to some thinking about about how to build the garden. This lead to one of the group at IEB becoming a community payback supervisor and now there is a team each week that comes along, and using their skills are building an extraordinary space.

The garden has turned from a wasteland to a productive garden, linked to the community centre and the local food bank which is just across the road. The produce will go into meals for the community at the community centre, be given away to people attending those lunch clubs, and to the food bank, as well of course as being used by the volunteers. Hopefully once the garden is really productive there will be workshops that can also use it and support more cooking at home across the area. It’s really the start of a great journey for both the community and Incredible Edible Bristol.

And what made it possible was collaboration. The group, the community rail partnership, the community centre, local doctors surgeries, schools and early years centres have come together with community payback, corporate volunteers and others to really support the project into a reality and with the kindness of some funding from GWR, the dream is becoming reality. In the next months a group for mums and toddlers will begin and local schools will get involved with a photography competition that will see photos of the garden at the station. And this, says everyone involved, is just the beginning of the story…….