This work is part of the UPSURGE project which Belfast City Council and Queen’s University (two of the Belfast Sustainable Food Place partners) have been delivering since 2022. The recent approval was to give permission for a local community group to run our agroecology community garden to test how you grow food on contaminated land, increase biodiversity, and engage the wider local community in how we grow and distribute local health food in the city.
Councillors at a Belfast City Council committee have unanimously agreed a new agroecology community garden as part of the Horizon 2020 UPSURGE project. The garden will be at the north end of a council-owned public and open space known widely as the Playing Field, but officially as Lower Botanic Gardens.
The community garden space is already fenced off and is located beside research plots for use by Queen’s University. The large majority of the field has yet to receive confirmed designated use, and plans mooted involve a species-rich meadowland, and a tree nursery.
The agroecology garden is run by community group Friends of the Field, who hope to begin work as soon as the lease on the land is signed. A ground plan has been established featuring a polytunnel, beds, spaces for teaching and events, kitchen and office facilities, and there are plans mooted to have year long allotment space working annually on a first-come-first-serve-basis.
Friends of Belfast Botanic Gardens are another group who have been engaging with the council and helping shape the plans on site.
The EU-funded Queen’s University and Belfast City Council project, Upsurge, is behind the transformation of the field. The Upsurge project focuses on testing nature-based solutions in five demonstrator cities across Europe, with the aim of "sharing learning and good practice on pollution alleviation, citizen health and climate resilience."
Colin Shaw of Friends of the Field said: “Plans for the garden were co-designed with a number of stakeholders including TVCNI, QUB academics, and the council's climate team and local groups. It will feature a polytunnel, raised beds, social spaces for teaching and events, along with recycled storage units transformed into kitchen and office facilities.
“The site will demonstrate nature-based gardening solutions such as water-harvesting, Bokashi composting (a process that converts food waste and other organic matter into a healthy soil additive), living roofs and walls.
“The garden will also be a place for sustainable food production and Friends of the Field plans to hold farms’ markets over the summer months providing locally-grown fresh food and vegetables to the community."
He added: "2024 will see the garden launch a ‘pilot phase’ while the infrastructure is put in place before opening to the community in late 2024/early 2025. Once fully up and running, the garden will help foster a sense of community and social cohesion by providing a shared space for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to connect and engage in meaningful activities together.
“We hope the space will serve as a platform for collaboration with universities, conservation groups, and charities to promote community resilience to climate change.”
The council said: “The area requested by Friends of the Field is an area of fenced ground to the northern end of the site, encompassing 1,626 metres squared. The group is requesting initially that the agreement runs for one year, with the option to renew.
“They have been successful in securing funding to run community gardening activities on the site, with the main infrastructure associated with the gardens funded via the existing Upsurge budget.”
They added: “Friends of the Field as part of the project will manage a volunteer-run community garden guided by the principles of permaculture and environmental sustainability. The garden will serve as a valuable resource for the community, promoting healthy eating habits, physical activity, and environmental stewardship.
“In their request they outline how the project aligns with the objectives of the EU funded Upsurge project, by deploying community gardens using recycled materials that are bio receptive and support plant growth; by repurposing and regenerating an underutilised urban area into a vibrant community agroecology hub; and by fostering citizen engagement and contributing to the success of the project as an EU Regenerative Lighthouse.
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