Group enjoying event at Forest College - 15.02.19

Putting Communities First

It’s fair to say that Scotland’s Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention – a fund which quite simply creates better places, and enhances quality of life, in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas – is pretty well known. The fact that you’ve landed on these webpages probably indicates you knew about the fund.

However, were you aware that there was a ‘sister’ element to this project, the Community Engagement Fund?

The ‘younger sibling’ had a clear focus on working with people to help them make the most of their local greenspace. It provided support for 11 projects across central Scotland.

Improving the green infrastructure in some of Scotland’s most deprived communities is a challenge. But not every vision has to be of a grand project, sometimes a very local, very specific project can deliver huge benefits.  And arguably the recent pandemic has confirmed that having access to quality greenspaces is vital for communities.

The fund opened in 2017 (allocating all the available money) and successful bids had to come from within 15% of the most deprived areas of Scotland. A key outcome was that the project must help communities understand and engage with their local greenspaces.

One successful bid for project funds came from Newbattle Abbey College for their Community Forest Project. The 125 acre estate, just south of Edinburgh (between Newtongrange and Dalkeith), is being used to offer learning and training opportunities for the local communities. As you might expect from a Forest College the emphasis is primary on woodland skills, but the project fuses other ambitions by working with individuals to value, use and enjoy their greenspaces.

From acquiring new skills, to gaining confidence to work in the outdoors, the benefits trickled down to both people and nature. By offering opportunities for volunteering, learning and training the extended community got a huge payback and the project left a lasting legacy.

Travel the short distance to the Broomhouse area of Edinburgh and another success story for greenspaces is revealed. The Broomhouse Centre sits in the south west of Edinburgh and until recently it lacked popular, quality, local greenspace. Now an area of previously unused land behind a shopping area has been transformed into the thriving Broomhouse Market Garden.

The greenspace is dramatically improved visually, and what’s more the project has triggered opportunities for volunteering, training and work experience, whilst establishing a vibrant community hub which supports a popular local food project and helps nearby good causes.

Designing a market garden from scratch was no easy task, but in enhancing this local greenspace in such a positive way the local community has taken the site to its heart.

A third compelling example of how well this Community Engagement work impacts on local greenspaces can be found with the Cyrenians project. Working at a range of NHS Lothians sites the project proposed to link several greenspace locations to improve patient mental health.  Some of those sites are actually in what could be termed ‘affluent’ areas of Edinburgh, but they serve the whole city, and gardening is known to have a calming effect for all as well as providing a safe social context for resolving some conditions. Patients and staff can benefit from these tranquil areas.

Here good greenspaces are seen as contributing a key element in delivering a Natural Health Service to support to the NHS. Investing time and funds in creating community greenspaces is known to have a hugely positive impact on health and wellbeing, it helps deliver green exercise goals, empowers communities, whilst offering equality opportunities. That last point is important as regardless of race, gender or age the work of the Cyrenians is open to all.

Since it was launched the Community Engagement Fund has enabled a variety of projects to leap from the imagination of the drawing board to reality. What’s more the global pandemic has made it clear that city living can be difficult. Travel bans and lockdown have a big impact, and urban greenspaces are taking on a new value. A fund which aims to redress the balance between urban grey and green infrastructure has to be good news for Scotland’s people and their urban greenspaces.