Back in September, we had the pleasure of being invited to be a part of the UniHealth programme hosted in Newcastle City Centre. This project followed on from the work we had studied in Madrid in summer (as mentioned by Niamh).
The UniHealth programme is an EU funded project which aims to share Urban design based research between Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Newcastle University. The week in Newcastle focused on the potential health benefits of green and blue infrastructure in cities. Following this theme we looked into micro and macro insertions of green and blue infrastructure in the Newcastle area.
As part of this week we visited one of the best examples of successful grass roots urbanism I have seen. The Station Master’s Garden at Whitley bay is a magnificent example of rejuvenating an area whilst gaining the support of the locals and investing in the future. The site started off life as a shed for steam engines back when they were in use. As technology developed and the Metro changed over time, the site was abandoned. The resulting overgrown patch was often a spot for anti-social behaviour, a common issue with brownfield sites.
However a member of the community Duika Watson started some small scale guerrilla gardening on the site, taming the brambles and cutting away overgrown weeds. This eventually led to a take over of the land and investment from many members of Whitley bay and Nexus. Since 2012 the land has blossomed into a beautiful garden which appeals to every aspect of the community, with continuing development each season.
The garden is run on a volunteer basis. Usually newcomers are given an induction as to how they can use the tools and then they are free to come and go as they please. Tasks throughout the garden are left on a note board, with some tasks being left for educational purpose. For example the raised beds near the entrance are primarily for school children to learn about where their food comes from. Some beds further into the garden are ‘rented’ by locals in order to grow their own produce (with the understanding that some school children might be grab to steal a couple of strawberries every now and then!). Financially the garden benefits from donations and links with the community yoga centre adjacent.
As you walk further into the garden, the winding path blocks certain views whilst surprising you with new vistas. Some areas are dedicated to a gorgeous wilderness, whilst others are experimenting with complimentary produce, ideally allowing the soil to revitalise itself.
The variation of spaces throughout the garden allow for a multitude of activities for visitors. Particularly in the spring and summer, with pop-up cinemas, a makeshift stage where local bands can play and a spot for community BBQ’s which make use of the garden’s harvest. The garden helps to change the culture of Whitley Bay even further by providing a compost patch for residents to dump their food waste.
Overall this garden is an incredible example of a bottom-up movement which has been embraced by locals and led to a change of culture. Often urban design concepts aspire to these results, employing top-down measures with masses of funding but rarely achieve it. However the Station Master’s garden demonstrates how humble beginnings, persistence and an understanding of the local community can go a long way.
Images provided by myself.
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