Growing cross-sector design collaboration in placemaking
In this blog post, David Henderson, Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) and Jac Reichel, Glasgow Community Food Network (GCFN) introduce themselves and their connection to the project and reflect on their experience exploring cross-sector collaboration in Glasgow's East End.
David: I work for the Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) which is funded by the Scottish Government to support community groups apply their legal rights to own and make use of land and buildings in Scotland. I can’t remember how I got involved in the research other than I was invited at attend an online meeting facilitated by The Glass-House and Open University bringing together potential participants from Glasgow and London.
Jac: I work for Glasgow Community Food Network's Food & Climate Action Project. At the time of the Cross Pollination project, I was working specifically in the East End of Glasgow, trying to engage and support local organisations and community members to become more involved in the local community food movement and raise awareness of how our food system is linked to the climate crisis. I got involved in the Cross Pollination project after David invited me to take part as the work I was doing already in the area was closely aligned with the aims of the project.
The Glasgow East End group participating in the cross-pollination research project followed a circuitous route and, while the outcomes were different to what the project team initially expected, it produced a lot of learning on the way.
Following the online meeting facilitated by The Glass-House and Open University, the Glasgow participants agreed to come together for an event at Many Studios in the East End of Glasgow, near the historic Barras.
The East End of Glasgow is a heavily industrialised part of the City which has many fine buildings reflective of Glasgow’s industrial heritage and also, sadly, some of the City’s most entrenched inequalities in terms of income and health outcomes. It is also a home to many people seeking asylum or refugee status in Scotland, often living under intolerable pressures for long periods of time while their ‘status’ is determined, and often without recourse to employment.
At the online workshop we had discussed this particular part of the city and the idea of using ‘unloved’ patches of land as a point of focus for the community to come together and collaborate. Many Studios emerged as an interesting place to try a cross-pollination activity because of its interest in a nearby scrap of ‘unloved’ land owned by Scottish Power. Architects working at the design practice based at Many Studios had taken an interest in the patch, hoping to create a small, simple ‘pocket garden’ which would allow people to sit, reflect, enjoy a cup of tea in a busy part of the city with few green space opportunities. One of the participants in the online workshop had also met a local person seeking asylum who had talked about how positive it would be to create a quiet space for people to meet. I was personally keen to see an East End project emerge because in my work with communities in Glasgow, promoting community ownership rights, the inner East End is not an area with lots of activity known to me.
Screenshots from the whiteboard used on the online workshop
18 people attended a face-to-face cross-pollination workshop, from a very wide range of backgrounds. A discussion process was facilitated by The Glass-House and Open University using a variety of visual and interactive techniques and amazing food (especially for us veggies) provided by a local social enterprise, Soul Food Sisters. It was a very positive and exciting discussion, with lots of very different approaches coming together.
One of the main ideas to emerge from that event, for me personally, was the idea of links between community venues – paths, walks, involving those in the community who felt isolated, to make connections with the great many social and community enterprises which exist in the East and Central parts of Glasgow. I think this is a simple but potentially very valuable idea combining gentle healthy activity, addressing isolation and improving access and links between community facilities. We wanted to see the Many Studios patch become part of a wider network.
Images from the first cross-pollination workshop facilitated by the cross-pollination team
Following this session, we struggled to achieve the traction needed. This was partly because we hadn’t factored in the timescales and sensitivities around Many Studios’ role but it was also because the groundwork hadn’t been laid. We didn’t have buy in from the local resident community or local community organisations with a stake in making the project work.
We did reach out through our networks and that produced some valuable connections. One of these connections was with the Glasgow Community Food Network who helped promote the collaborative principles supported by the cross-pollination project. I attended an outdoor event facilitated by GFCN in Elcho Gardens attended by 20 people, hearing their plans and actions to create a more sustainable, environmentally aware Glasgow with greater opportunities for connection, very much in the spirit of our Many Studios event. Again, food played an important role!
And while the prospect of the ‘pocket garden’ as our focus for joint action receded - to be developed hopefully by Many Studios over a longer time period - it was evident from the Elcho Gardens event, and those before it, that there were a great many talented and able people with socially minded projects struggling to find land to realise their ambitions – from animal sanctuaries, to community growing, through to wood reuse projects (unfortunately none of the projects started with a ‘Z’!).
Working with GCFN therefore, using their networks, we decided to host an event on 22nd of September 2022 at Many Studios. Attended by around 15 people, this was a lively event. Presentations were given by COSS (me!) on the community rights in relation to licences, leases and ownership, Rosie from Many Studios talked about the architects’ plans for the pocket garden and Mo Anne McCormick from the Concrete Garden, an urban community growing and play project in the heart of the City. This inspired discussion and connection and follow-up contact in all kinds of directions (I know because I’m still taking enquiries!). The evaluation highlighted the value of the event, as one participant said:
“Hearing about the asset transfer process and the journey of the Concrete Garden and the general networking was really useful.”
I’ve evaluated cross-pollination projects and partnerships but never actually been part of one! What I’d say was genuinely very exciting is being part of an environment where you really have to look at things from fresh angles and then think “where can I apply my own knowledge and skills?”. We live of increasing professional complexity and within our own political echo chambers – this is a way to break down some of those barriers.
Image from the follow up workshop facilitated by the Glasgow Community Food Network