Our Green Space, a Cumbria-wide project was developed and managed in partnership by Friends of the Lake District (FLD) and Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT).

It was funded by the Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ grant scheme and Friends of the Lake District and run with the support of many other individuals and organisations. The project employed two part time Project Officers and initially ran from January 2008 to December 2010 but was subsequently extended to December 2011.

About Barrow

Barrow-in-Furness is a large industrial town that grew from a tiny 19th Century hamlet to the biggest iron and steel centre in the world in less than 40 years. In 1846 the railway was introduced to carry iron ore, slate and limestone to the new port and the prosperity of the town grew with the development of the steel and shipbuilding industries. From 32 dwellings in 1843 the population of the town had reached 47,000 by 1881.

Barrow's location and the availability of steel allowed the town to develop into a significant producer of naval vessels, although after World War II, the original iron and steel making enterprises closed down. Vickers ship-building factory remained as Barrow's main industry, specialising in the construction of nuclear-powered submarines during the 1960's. However with the end of the Cold War and subsequent decrease in military spending, the town suffered high unemployment through lack of contracts and today faces considerable socio-economic challenges.

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Evidence of Need

Marsh Street, where the Arches and Garden Project is situated, is in one of the most densely populated wards of Barrow and faces many economic, social and disorder problems.

There is very little green space, high unemployment, many absentee landlords and often residents are short-term or lead quite chaotic lives.

The site proposed for development had been derelict for almost 30 years and until a recent clean up had been used as an area for fly tipping, arson, under age drinking and drug abuse.

The area was undergoing physical regeneration and the development of a community garden would aid this process and bring together a spectrum of local people.

Bringing people together to work on the project would provide an opportunity to restore some sense of community, sense of place and self-esteem amongst local residents.

Activities around and in the garden would enhance the relevance and interest of the space and encourage the social, industrial and historical heritage of the site to be explored, as well as providing a valuable resource for educational opportunities and social activities.

Activities around and in the garden would enhance the relevance and interest of the space and encourage the social, industrial and historical heritage of the site to be explored, as well as providing a valuable resource for educational opportunities and social activities.

Aims and objectives

The Our Green Space (OGS) scheme in Barrow was part of the wider Marsh Street Arches and Garden Project aiming to develop an area of derelict land and the four adjacent railway arches in such a way as to benefit the local community. The intention was to involve as many of the 5000 local people living within a mile or so of the garden site at every stage of the development. Involvement in the project would provide people with access to training, new experiences and a sense of ownership in a development that in turn would produce confidence, transferable skills, valuable community resources and provide the best opportunity for the long-term sustainability of the project.

“Our Green Space community scheme aims to restore, celebrate, enhance and sustain the heritage, cultural, environmental and community value of Barrow Marsh St. Arches open green space for all to enjoy”.

Community empowerment

The Marsh Street Arches and Garden Project (MSAGP) became involved with Our Green Space after considerable work had already taken place. Local community members had persevered over a long period to bring the derelict site into beneficial use and considerable enthusiasm and support had been established amongst local agencies and schools. Our Green Space further enhanced this work by providing an opportunity to focus on restoring a sense of the site's industrial and community heritage through its design, celebratory events, oral history work and educational activities. OGS has also helped to build confidence and encourage skills development through formal training sessions, learning through experience, bringing people together to share skills or by providing funding for specialist advice and support.

Good governance

The work of the Marsh Street Arches and Garden CIC has, over time, achieved many successes and produced inspirational results. For an organisation that started as a small community group wishing to develop some waste land, it has evolved into a complex organisation, registered as a limited company, with a board of directors, management team and strategic plan.

Individuals from the committee have attended specific training courses covering topics such as public relations, urban design, community engagement and development, sustainability, computer skills. The Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) have been very helpful in giving advice on developing policies and advertising for volunteers.

The management committee meet once a month and keep a record of minutes. They have put in place several policies to help govern the project including Child Protection, Vulnerable Adult, Data Protection, Health and Safety and a Volunteer Policy.

Strong partnership working

The garden development has brought together many different sectors of the community including the police, schools, private businesses, the council, community groups and students in what is viewed by many as an exemplary project.

Through excellent communications and involvement the project has developed numerous meaningful partnerships with various voluntary and statutory organizations. Examples of partnership working include the following:

  • The Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service filling up the water feature in the garden;
  • Cumbria Police providing risk assessments, advice on the design of the garden and contributing towards the funding for CCTV;
  • Central and Hindpool Neighbourhood Management helping with clean ups, contributing towards funding, providing opportunities for training, assisting with events and providing a shared office space.

These are just a handful of the many partnership opportunities the project has provided that together with extensive publicity has helped the project gain recognition leading to the following awards:

  • The District Special Trophy (Barrow-in-Furness) Award for Achievement in the Borough, Cumbria in Bloom Awards 2009.
  • Neighbourhood Award – Certificate of Outstanding Achievement, Cumbria in Bloom Awards 2009.
  • Community Project Category, Love Barrow Awards, 2009.
  • Greener Communities Category, Cumbria Community Awards 2008.
Volunteer opportunities and involvement

The local community have been involved at every stage of the development and continue to be invited to join the project and take an active part. Events, clean-ups, one off activities and training sessions such as those delivered by ‘Growing Well’ and Cumbria Wildlife Trust have all proved successful. It does, however, remain a constant challenge to actively involve community members in giving time to take responsibility for tasks at a management level.

The MSAGP have tried many different ways of engaging new volunteers:

  • Working in partnership with external organisations such as the Youth Re-Action Team and the police it was possible to consult many other people through their work and to identify other volunteers for the project and raise greater awareness about it.
  • The web and email network have been used to request voluntary support and a leaflet produced. Partner organisations have helped to publicise this and encourage new volunteers to join.
  • A volunteer policy was developed and a volunteer co-ordinator put in place.
  • During Volunteers’ Week, the UK annual celebration of the work of volunteers, a picnic in the park was organised working with Cumbria CVS Barrow Volunteer Centre. This was part of a wider celebration of 25 years of Volunteers Week when events were held across the country to recognise, reward and recruit volunteers. The event took place on 5th June 2009, giving organisations and volunteers a chance to network with each other and supporting organisations and included the presentation of Certificates of appreciation.

All the work mentioned resulted in new volunteers joining the project and other efforts are ongoing to keep engaging the local community. A user group has now been developed to encourage stakeholders to play a more active role in the project. A new Volunteer Co-ordinator has been recruited who, working closely with the Voluntary Project Co-ordinator, has developed a database of volunteers who will be working on the garden at regular times and dates on a weekly basis.

In 2011 the CIC completed a recruitment drive resulting in one new Director and 11 new Members of the Company. Once the garden is fully open to the public other opportunities will be possible.

Good Communications

A range of media has been used to keep people informed and to reach different audiences. There have been regular project updates in local newspapers and several articles in national newspapers and magazines. A feasibility study was undertaken in 2008 to build on the original project plan, generate further interest, record the views, opinions and needs of the local people and to develop new partnerships and enhance those already formed. The Voluntary Project Co-ordinator also keeps everyone updated on progress of the project through regular emails that signpost to information on the internet.

The project has a website (www.marshstreetprojects.org.uk) which introduces the gardens and arches project on the home page and then directs viewers to other pages including a news page, partners page, consultation page and funding page. A minutes and documents page stores useful papers, such as feedback from schools and the Junior Wardens, policies and plans, and annual attendance numbers and a gallery page takes the viewer to a large number of photos to do with the project.

Photos stored in the gallery part of the website can also be found in the project’s flickr site (www.flickr.com/phots/greenheartden). The site is open access with no password necessary because any photos of children have been cleared with parents directly.

The news page of the website has really been superseded by the on line diary or blog (see www.greenheartden.blogspot.com) which has at least weekly entries since July 2009.

The MSAG CIC also uses a social networking site (see www.facebook.com/greenheartden) to communicate with people that are interested in the project.

Involving young people

Many events have been organised with local schools in the area and some of the schools have also used the garden as an outdoor classroom to deliver Maths and Science lessons.

Local schools were invited to conduct a ‘name the garden’ competition and on 4th July 2008 an official naming ceremony took place. This involved pupils from Ramsden Infants, St George’s, Sacred Heart, Greengate Infants and Greengate Junior School coming together to enjoy a big celebration of the garden including a banner parade, orchestra playing, dancers and a display of decorated anchors. The event culminated with the announcement of the winning name as ‘The Green Heart Den’.

Junior Wardens: From 2007, the Barrow Junior Wardens project has brought together children from four primary schools to undertake activities that are fun and help the environment. The group meet at least monthly after school or at weekends and Our Green Space and the development of The Green Heart Den has provided a focus and useful resource to the group. Activities undertaken as part of OGS have included building bat boxes with Furness and Westmorland Bat Group; making bird feeders with Cumbria Wildlife Trust and playing games about trees; video filming with Morph films; and planting pansies to give the garden a bit of winter colour. In July 2010 Growing Well (a social enterprise that grows organic vegetables and works with local people recovering from mental health issues) helped the Junior Wardens to create a herb/salad garden to take home.

Furness College: About 25 students (mostly 16 to 19 year olds) on the BTec Extended Diploma in Art and Design first visited The Green Heart Den with their tutor in the spring of 2009. A good relationship was developed where students became involved in design projects for gates and seating for the community garden. This was an excellent opportunity for the students to undertake a real design project, being involved at all stages of the process, culminating in the successful manafacture and installation of winning designs.

Learning about wildlife

Many efforts have been made to help raise awareness and generate an interest in the local wildlife identified in the garden.

"One of the fun and interesting elements of our project has been exploring our natural environment and the local biodiversity. We have conducted various environmental workshops on the Green Heart Den, facilitated by officers from Cumbria Wildlife Trust and attended by Junior Wardens, local school children and their parents. This has included bat watch events and species identification sessions.

We have been able to identify, slow worms, common lizards, hedgehogs, common and soprano pipistrelle bats and a variety of butterflies including; common blues, red admirals, small tortoiseshell, gatekeeper, small copper, commas and peacocks.

Many of our environmental activities formed part of the Junior Wardens work in achieving two John Muir awards.”(Voluntary Co-ordinator)

Historical research

In 2008, led by one of the Directors of the CIC, an Oral History Group was set up to further the heritage aspects of the project. The group met regularly, purchased equipment and with advice and support from the Dock Museum began to research the history of the area.

A focus for the Group has been Ramsden Street, once the main access route to the ‘Corporation Yard’ that has become the community garden. The group produced a map showing all the various small businesses that existed in Ramsden Street and using the year books at the Cumbria Records Office have been able to research some of the many and varied businesses.

The Oral History Group have worked closely with Greengate Junior School and the pupils there have enjoyed hearing a talk from the group and producing a mural depicting how the shop fronts of the neighbourhood may have looked in the past. Other activities have involved taking groups of children to the newly developed garden to discuss what the site was used for in the past and to undertake fun educational games to learn more about the local history within their neighbourhood.

The Oral History Group produced a short film, ‘Wardmans Walkabout’ that sets out how life has changed over the years in this part of Barrow. The film was welcomed by many members of the community and 300 copies of the film have been distributed. It can be viewed on www.ourgreenspace.org.uk

The work of the Oral History Group has involved talking with many older members of the community and has been a way of informing and engaging a different section of the community in the project. Several interviews undertaken and recorded have since been transcribed. At the time of writing a second film is under production that will focus on the history of the project site where the garden has been developed.

Access to the garden

Public access to the community garden has been a major hurdle for the CIC. Development of the access has been dependent on other parties undertaking the work involved with the demolition of a derelict house. The CIC have done everything possible to progress this work involving considerable time and effort. The CIC have obtained planning permission for the work needed and have worked with the asset transfer unit to try and progress matters. Despite the frustrations created by this element of the project and the considerable extra time and effort required to address it, the CIC have used the situation to trial the garden, run private events and address other issues.

Whilst access to the new garden has been delayed the CIC have progressed work on the North Plot of land adjacent to Greengate Bridge. Barrow Borough Council has leased the plot to the CIC and new proposals are being developed for the site.

The development of the North Plot will very much complement the work already undertaken in creating the community garden. Due to this and the timeframe of Our Green Space the decision was taken to transfer the funding for access to the garden to complete the access and gates to the North Plot site instead. The involvement in Our Green Space helped secure a lease with Network Rail to allow use of the arches at no cost to the CIC. Access to the garden site is therefore possible through the central arch although in the long term the CIC still aim to develop direct access once the house demolition takes place.

Celebrations and events

Many events held have been aimed at bringing the community together in the garden to enjoy a social occasion together with people of all ages. For example in December 2009 over 200 people came to a Christmas in the Garden event where they could help decorate the tree and sing carols. At a Summer BBQ in 2010, over 200 people enjoyed live music and food at their local garden and ongoing open days throughout the summer of 2010.

Special events have also been organised for specific groups within the community. Cumbria County Council Children Services and Furness Carers, with the support of the CIC, were able to hold weekly game sessions on site over the summer of 2010 for disabled children and their parents and in 2011 a large heritage festival is planned.

Ongoing Objectives and Legacy

The CIC has been granted ‘emerging trust’ status by the Development Trust Association and is following an action plan to become a full development trust by the end of 2012.

The Oral History Group hope to continue work to research and capture the history of this part of Barrow. They have plans to make a third ‘Wardmans Walkabout’ film and are working closely with a local filming company who have applied to the Heritage Lottery for a grant to support this work.

The CIC will continue to work with Barrow Borough Council to progress the sale and demolition of the derelict house of Marsh Street to allow for appropriate public access directly into the garden. The Council have ring-fenced funding for this work.

The CIC have developed a ‘Grow your own’ scheme that will allow local people who have no green space the opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables at the north plot site. The aim is to increase opportunities for physical activity, improve mental health and well-being and increase the availability of fresh food in the heavily populated area. Funding has been secured from the following:

  • Marks and Spencer - Greener Living Grant
  • WREN - Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd
  • Barrow Borough Council - Pocket Parks Grant
  • Barrow Borough Council - Communities for Health
  • Cumbria NHS
  • Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust

Plans have been agreed and work is underway.

The CIC are negotiating leases with Network Rail for the four empty bridge arches. Detailed proposals will be developed and funding sought to create useful community resources in these spaces such as offices, meeting rooms and a resource centre. This would eventually help the CIC to meet its aim of becoming self-funding by providing an income from renting these spaces.

The local community and school children in the area will continue to be encouraged to join in with activities to care for, use and enjoy their new community garden.