In light of the recent announcement by Bath & North East Somerset Council of the proposed improvements to Hedgemead Park, Vegmead Community Group (VCG) wish to challenge statements made concerning the future of Vegmead, the food growing space that we run within the park. The full announcement from the Council can be found here: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/latestnews/improvements-hedgemead-park-bath
We are challenging each of the reasons given for the Council’s wish to see Vegmead removed from its current location along with the suggestion that Vegmead be located to Kensington Meadows.
- It is on a steep slope and has limited access to water, compost facilities, storage and other amenities.
Vegmead’s access to water, compost facilities, storage and other amenities has been greatly aided by the local community investment in the site, including donations from local businesses. Compost facilities and access to water do exist on site and these are complemented by additional water and compost brought to Vegmead by volunteers living locally. The upkeep of the space represents a cost saving for the council and the loss of the space would mean the loss of these free inputs into the site. As Honorary Alderman David Dixon has stated, “Local councils have less money than ever before to look after our parks. Therefore they should be welcoming all groups who are willing to ‘take on’ a space and look to make these truly valued partnerships.”Further investment in the site by VCG will create more sustainable access to these resources.
- It is relatively difficult to access and is largely inaccessible to those with limited mobility.
Vegmead does indeed present some access issues to those with limited mobility but VCG takes a proactive and solution-based approach to this issue. With council support, VCG can source and secure funding to open up access to the site, a view encouraged by Ben Howlett MP during a recent meeting. This would represent a cost saving to the council and once again demonstrate a progressive community-led approach to creating volunteering opportunities for all.
Vegmead’s removal would not remove the access issues but would instead remove local volunteers from the park who have a vested interest in maintaining the area, clearing litter and discouraging anti-social behaviour by providing a regular presence, local resident Celia pinpointed this in her view that “The visibility of Vegmead is what matters – it shows industriousness, environmentalism and creates a sense of safety to see others”.This community-led approach is something encouraged by the Royal Horticultural Society who run schemes such as It’s Your Neighbourhood.
In 2011 35 volunteers gave 400 hours collectively to set up Vegmead. In the subsequent 5 years approximately 3000 volunteer hours have been given to the site which represents a monetary value of approximately £25,000.
- It is poorly-suited to a heritage landscape.
Vegmead broadens Bath’s horticultural offering within a heritage landscape that is well served with flower beds and does nothing to detract from the listed elements of Hedgemead Park (the railings, bandstand, water fountain and other structural features). In most of the parks in Bath there are ice-cream stalls, cafes, public loos, an entire skate park, a children’s playground, all within the site of the World Heritage boundary. Parks are not museums, nor should they be treated as such. They are living and breathing spaces for people. As resident Bruno simply stated, “The formality of Hedgemead and the resourceful nature of Vegmead make it an excellent showcase for a city re-displaying itself for future generations.” The ability of Bath to both protect its heritage and look ahead to the challenges of the 21st century is vital to ensuring the city is a dynamic, creative and sustainable place to live and work.
- The location and layout of the space limits opportunities for the plot to develop further.
Vegmead is a food growing site. Every food growing site no matter what size presents continuous opportunity as long as the soil is fertile. Rotation of crops, trials of new varieties and companion planting supports the growth of an array of crops and enriches local wildlife, especially bee populations. A living space is a space of opportunity.
Vegmead is also a community invested site. There remains further scope to grow and strengthen community linkages including linking up with other nearby food growing spaces to share resources, creating a broader range of volunteering opportunities and offer gardening sessions to vulnerable adults. Much of Vegmead’s ability to reach beyond its physical border is thanks to its visible location, something that local people have voiced so compellingly through the testimonials they have given on the Vegmead website . Lisa Brett, Councillor for Walcot, encapsulates many other local residents’ views in her statement that there is “no justification for the proposal to move the community vegetable garden from Hedgemead to Kensington Gardens”. A community space is a space of opportunity and the improvements to Hedgemead Park should reflect that.
- Nearby Kensington Meadows is an ideal alternative with large areas of flat, accessible open space, alongside an existing fledgling community orchard.”
Vegmead Community Group believe that the development of a food growing space within Kensington Meadows is something that should be led by members of that specific local community and in collaboration with the Friends of Kensington Meadows group. The aims and objectives of Vegmead exist, in part due to its routing within the community surrounding Hedgemead Park and is not something that can be simply moved elsewhere. Glenn, a London Road business owner, stated “Not only on the outward aesthetic; there is also something much more beautiful and powerful in operation here; a true heart beat exists to the park; a vibrant aliveness that is not something you can just relocate to some hidden corner of Bath.” Its success has arisen from its bottom-up, people-powered development, which cannot be replicated or replaced by a centralised, top-down approach from the local authority.
The BANES Local Food Strategy (2014-2017) states that the council wish to ‘support the provision and retention’ of community food growing spaces, protecting local food infrastructure. To remove Vegmead from its current location and assume that it could be simply moved elsewhere with the same community involvement is presumptuous.
To understand the strength of feeling that surrounds Vegmead is to understand the sense of place, community and sustainability that a move elsewhere would disrupt and dislocate.
For the reasons stated above, Vegmead Community Group considers BANES Council’s intended decision to move Vegmead from Hedgemead Park to Kensington Gardens as unjustified, unpopular and unnecessary. We therefore urge the Council to reconsider.