Who knew the Green was so important to me?
Whether you love gardening and getting your hands in the dirt, or just enjoy a spot of sunbathing, having even the smallest green space can do so much for our mental wellbeing. For Growing for Wellbeing Week 2022, our Communications Manager, Jane, shares how her beloved local Green came under threat, and how her community rallied to save it.
My grandfather was a farmer and a market gardener. I spent summers on his land, hand-in-hand with my hero marvelling at his knowledge and the beauty of leek seeds. He grew daffodils too, and created new strains, naming them after his daughters: Elizabeth, Helen & Christine. Every Easter he threw the gates open to his own gardens welcoming everyone who wished to see hundreds of his daffodils in all their glory.
While I love gardens, I can’t say I’m a gardener and in fact chose my house because of its tiny walled-in garden. But what really sold the house to me was that the back garden opened onto a green space, owned (or so we thought) by the Council.
Open to all
Open to all, it became a place for parties, sunbathing, football matches, cricket played with a tennis ball and much more. The Green is small with seven mature trees and a rickety fence along one side. It’s much loved by many as the only green space in a built-up area in the centre of my town.
Last September we discovered by accident that our Green was going up for auction. We were amazed and couldn’t understand why. After a little bit of digging, we found out the Green was privately owned and had been for years.
While the Council had been cutting the grass for at least 40 years and looking after the trees too, it wasn’t owned by them. The new owners (who had bought it as part of a company liquidation) were keen to get rid of it and had put it up for sale with a listing price of £12,500. The community was in uproar. We immediately realised that the land was easily big enough to support two or three good sized homes, or it could be turned into a car park, or…we started to panic.
Saving our Green
To cut a long story short we held a public meeting attended by around 90 residents and decided to raise the money and buy the land ourselves. We had less than two weeks to do it. We agreed to split up with one group concentrating on fundraising, and the other tasked with finding out ways to make the land as unattractive as possible to any potential developer.
We got tree preservation orders for all the trees, looked into creating a right of way across it, found out what was needed to turn it into a village green and gain protection that way and then stumbled upon the ACV or Asset of Community Value. If we could get the Council to agree to ACV status, it would mean we would have six months to raise funds, rather than six days! It would also give us time to organise ourselves and clarify what we wanted to do and why.
We were granted ACV status and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The auction was pulled, and we were given until 10 March 2022 to get our act together.
We quickly realised we had so much work to do including setting ourselves up as a non-profit making company, clarifying our vision and plans for the land and how that would work, and setting about negotiating a buying price with the current owners.
Raising the funds
Our small and feisty group of residents represented the three roads that backed onto the Green. As a group of six we took on roles and responsibilities and met nearly every week during that six months. We held more than 20 group meetings and created more than 500 documents. We met in each other’s homes when we could, and we met virtually when Covid regulations meant we couldn’t meet in person. We had to swot up on planning law, set ourselves up as a company and negotiate with some hard-nosed developers. We also had to make sure everyone knew what we were doing so our communications were important, as was managing expectations. We had no clue if we would be able to stop the land going back into open auction and into the hands of people who didn’t really value it as we did.
But our community came up trumps and we raised an amazing £34,000 – enough to buy the Green, pay our legal fees and have some money in the kitty to look after the Green over the next two or three years while we work out how best to protect it in perpetuity.
A garden for everyone
The other day I was picking up some litter on my way home across the Green and I bumped into one of our neighbours who is also one of our donors. “How does it feel? he joked, “Us buying your garden for you so it’s not turned into a car park?” “Great,” I smiled, “Absolutely great!”