… “but if you try real hard”, you’ll please some of the people, some of the time. It’s a lesson I seem to learn over and over again. Not that it’s all about pleasing other people (well, alright I do enjoy doing things that make other people happy, call me an old softie). But why am I ranting on about this you may ask? Well, I’ll come to that in a minute…
Firstly, you might have noticed a bit of a development in Dyke Road Park recently. Tucked away behind the tennis courts is an 8m square patch of land that’s being transformed into a beautiful community garden. Friends of Dyke Road Park have been working tirelessly over the last couple of months (no hang on, battling with bureaucracy for at least a year before that!) to make the garden a reality, and now it’s here.
The idea behind the garden is to create a focal point where people without gardens (or with gardens) can gather, relax and if they feel like it, join in with some garden based activity. There’ll be seasonal vegetables to eat, cooking sessions (hopefully!), a harvest at the end of the summer and community composting too. The whole thing has been supported by the Council and Harvest, who provided advice and donated capital funding to buy equipment and get the thing started. There’s also been a significant amount of input from our local resident, FoDRP member and permaculture specialist Hedvig, who designed the garden with FoDRP to be low impact and ‘no dig’ (that’s right – there’s been no digging involved so as to keep the impact on the soil and the park to an absolute minimum – when the garden is gone the grass will simply grown back!).
The official launch is on Saturday the 9th June – there’s going to be a sign up stall for community composting, face painting, bean planting, seedling swap and a community picnic (bring your own). Arrive from 11am and FoDRP will be there until around 3pm. You are very welcome to come down and see how we’re getting on and get an idea of how you can be involved.
So, what’s all the fuss about pleasing people? Well, as you can imagine we’ve had a fair amount of interest in the garden as we’ve been hauling loads of bark across the grass, and 90% of it has been positive, from dog walkers, kids, families and other regular users. There’sa bit of a buzz around community composting form those who have no capability to do this in their own space and also we’ll be creating another place to relax, with benches on all four sides where you can plonk yourself down and watch the lettuce growing to your heart’s content.
But there’s been a smattering of negativity around the introduction of something new as well. While working at the graden recently someone called me over, asking “are you something to do with this?”. I happily trotted over expecting to have the usual chat around what was going on but was greeted with a good dose of scepticism. I paraphrase slightly but to give you an idea:
“Are you really going to eat that stuff? You do know dogs pee in there all the time? I would have thought it would be better left as a children’s play area, I wish you the best of luck but I can’t see it lasting myself”.
Ah, OK. I worked out pretty quickly that this wasn’t a conversation that was open to any kind of debate, shared interest, negotiation or persuasion so I simply explained what we were doing and wished the person a good day. It left me a bit stumped…
Give one hundred people the same patch of land, and they’d all do something different with it of course. In community work, there are bound to be different points of view (just trying to get a small group of people to agree a date to enjoy some time together is hard enough, never mind organise a community event or build a vegetable garden!) but when points of view are wholly negative, how can we treat them fairly, objectively and positively? Just because a point of view is negative and contradictory to one’s own, does not make it invalid – it’s just harder for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
I’ve tried hard to see the community garden issue from this person’s point of view since our conversation and it ended up being kind of fun speculating on all the reasons that could have helped form that person’s opinion, which was so different to my own. It made me realise (all over again) that a community is made up of such a complex interplay of people, families, words, emotions, values, beliefs and faiths that we cannot possibly hope to please everyone all of the time. What we can do is be open to listen, look people in the eye and hear what they have to say, even if it doesn’t ring true with you… and realise that we all breathe the same air, we all share the same space and we’re all trying to get along as best we can (and, as my wife likes to say, “we all put our trousers on one leg at a time”).
So, with that in mind, I invite everyone to come and check out the new garden, advocates and sceptics alike, and tell us what you think. Start a conversation, and listen to your neighbour!
Oh and if you can keep your dogs from peeing on the patch all the better, but I for one am not going to lose any sleep over that one!
Chair of Prestonville Community Association