Sowing the Seeds

A strong October sun shone on us last Friday afternoon for the Official Opening of the Midlothian Community Hospital Gardens: the third of the NHS Community Gardens collection, alongside those in Morningside and Dunbar – the latter as a sort of franchise with the local community group. A fourth is under planning in West Lothian.

Offical Opening of the Midlothian Community Hospital Gardens

We also had the broadcast on BBC Scotland’s iconic Beechgrove Garden of a revisit to the prototypye NHS Community Garden at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, following their original programme ‘way back’ in August 2010. The link to BBC Player is here, with the item running from 21:50 in for about 5 minutes. Well worth the watch if you get the chance. It’s inspiring to see the original garden thriving, not just in terms of growing but also with over 1,000 hours of community volunteering every month.

Cyrenians Gardens Manager Hillary Vipond being interviewed by the wonderful Carole Baxter, presenter of Beechgrove Garden

There is absolutely no doubt that the NHS Community Gardens model – rooted in their local communities and based on volunteering and creative collaboration – is proving highly successful in terms of its social outcomes. The challenge is to make them not just financially sustainable but generating surplus to invest in continuous improvement and growth. Success on a scale requires a degree of professional management – however much volunteering and in-kind support goes in – and this costs money.

It’s been suggested to me that ‘The Gardens’ is a classic example of asset-based community development, (ABCD) except that it merges with the top-down ownership and ambition of NHS Lothian. Slightly disturbingly I have also been told that it is an embodiment of Big Society! Neither ‘model’ suggests where the modest income required will come from in years to come. Hence we are looking at social enterprise development, generating income from sales of Corporate Team Challenges, surplus produce, secondary goods and ‘garden experiences’ – plus some old fashioned community fundraising. It will be an interesing journey.

Des Ryan (CEO)

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