May 2009: Residents in the Lewes Road area of Brighton have reclaimed a derelict plot and are turning it into a community garden. The project is entirely run by volunteers and supported by donations of soil, plants, and turfing. The plot, formerly a petrol station, is privately owned but has been derelict for over four years.
I spent one Sunday working on the garden and saw dozens and dozens of people come and help out, donate materials, or just offer their thanks. The volunteers, who live within the locality, seem to be of all ages and walks of life. On the day, we re-turfed land, created plant features from used car tires, painted signs and decorations, and erected a marquee for food and drink. I was warmed by the simple willingness to help out that every individual shared, and the collective determination to make the garden successful.
‘There’s something pleasant about the symbolism of turning a petrol station into a garden,’ says Duncan, one of the residents to start the project. ‘And it’s wonderful to see how people have responded. It’s as though everyone was waiting for something like this to happen.’
As the sun went down, the gardeners put away tools and sat on the grass to chat and relax. Food and drink was shared as children showed their inexhaustible energy by continuing to run around. The garden will host a work session and evening party at the first Sunday of every month, but Duncan reckons these will only be the start. ‘I can see people wanting to come here every weekend. Maybe every day.’