Sara Venn sat down with us at Bearpit Social and spoke to us about the Bearpit Garden which she built with her team of volunteers of Incredible Edible Bristol!
We invited Sara in the Spring of 2014 to discuss the possibilities of creating a community garden for the space..
Today, the Bearpit Garden is one of the biggest, ongoing projects they've been working on and the attitude of her and her team of just powering forwards has been an inspiration to us all.
This week we thought we'd let Sara share the Good News of the Bearpit!
There is a huge amount of work going on in our Bearpit garden. This garden is in a sunken roundabout in the centre of the centre of Bristol. For several years a group of great folk have been working to change the space from lost to loved, introducing cafes, artwork and play spaces to the space, and we are now creating a garden.
As if being in a sunken roundabout isn't enough, the space also has some severe social issues. Historically it has been a place where addiction and homelessness have been apparent with large groups often coming together down there.
At no point is the aim to alienate this community from the Bearpit, but more to make it feel like a safer, more inclusive space for the rest of the city's population. Introducing cafes, spaces for events, table tennis and skate boarding facilities to the area has made it more of a destination than a thoroughfare. It's become a great place to meet, drink tea and relax.
The aim of the garden is to create an oasis of calm in the city centre, regardless of the fact there are buses, cars and ambulances travelling around the roundabout at eye level in the garden!
Rosemary and Lavender make low lying hedges, artichokes wave gently in the breeze, whilst subtlety edible herbaceous borders surround 3 large fruit trees including Bristol's newest Mulberry. Rather than going round the Bearpit, we're now going round the mulberry bush!!
There has been a whole lot of controversy around this garden. Many have asked why bother? Many have said what a waste of money it is, as it's inevitable that it will be trashed. There has been some substantial social media abuse.
Gut reaction has always driven me in these city centre designs, and the Bearpit has been no different. Whilst all the doubters and haters have been busy we, with our amazing volunteers, have quietly planted the trees, shrubs, perennials and 1500 bulbs. We've put in beautiful seats with planters attached. We've stripped walls of ivy and replaced them with beautiful climbers, and we've created a small nursery area where we are growing for all 37 gardens that we support.
We've made a central composting area and one of our great supporters is managing it and introducing a wormery to the space. And slowly an area that a year ago was sad, covered in black plastic and derelict, is beginning to bloom. And all the time the original community, those with hideous issues that have been brought about by family breakdown, mental health issues, addiction, and abuse, are becoming fierce protectors of the garden.
When we first began I was asked, "are you making us a garden?" to which the reply was yes, we're making a garden for everyone. Since that first day I have wondered regularly at the facts that whilst all around the garden gets tagged, the garden itself is never touched. There has been no vandalism, no plant loss, however convinced people were that it "wouldn't last a day". And we find the entire community in the garden, sitting on the seats, relaxing as the world goes by.
For me this is just another example of how powerful people are when they just get on with it. Everyone, including me, who has worked on this garden has done so voluntarily, including some great groups of corporate volunteers who always make a huge impact in a day. We've worked in pouring rain, in blistering heat and everything in between, and a community of community gardeners has joined the community of users of the Bearpit.
Often people ask me why I do this. What would make me work voluntarily for probably 80% of the week? And this is the answer. Working with people, individuals or communities, supporting them to make physical change in their own areas, supporting them to create beautiful, productive gardens in lost and unloved spaces, is an honour. And seeing those people bloom as they make that change is beyond an honour. Supporting good horticulture and upskilling people to learn more about gardens and plants is an honour. And creating change in a city centre, with gardens popping up all over, ensuring good design, appropriate planting and good horticultural practice is not just an honour but also an insight into how the city could look if horticulture was taken seriously. An honour.
The way the Bearpit garden is moving forwards shows it becoming a micro park. A calming area. Somewhere that will soak up water when it rains, buffer noise in the space in which it sits, works to cool the city. But most importantly it's a space for people, made by people, in order to make change, both social and physical.