Colour and community: How a Fallowfield gardening project is making the community blossom
Along several of Fallowfield’s tree-lined streets, amongst the bits of broken glass and discarded cigarette butts, lie little pockets of floral colour and meadow aroma. These dainty seasonal displays are the efforts of a small community group called Fallowfield Tree Bases who have been planting, watering and ‘TLC-ing’ these miniature gardens for over a decade.
Comprised of both local residents and student helpers, Fallowfield Tree Bases is an initiative encompassing more than the instalment of urban greenery but also strives to promote wider social cohesion and community spirit. Speaking with one of the project’s long-standing volunteers, Helen Aczel, she explained that the project “brings people together of all ages, cultures and communities through the shared enjoyment of gardening.” Aczel also expressed how the tree bases help to “foster a sense of pride in our neighbourhood as well as strengthening morale in the face of environmental degradation.”
Community garden schemes are important for a myriad of reasons, often presenting an intuitive solution to many pressing and pertinent issues like social isolation, mental well-being and habitual degeneration. They also present an excellent opportunity to acquire a new skill, build new friendships and develop a deeper understanding of the importance of nature. In the case of Fallowfield Tree Bases, the project is a fantastic way for students to connect with residents and contribute toward the quality of local amenities. Greater collaboration between neighbours helps to smooth over growing divisions between residential and student communities. Spending more time with local residents is an excellent avenue for creating mutual understanding, shared perspective and an exchange of ideas.
One of the projects student volunteers, Savannah Roeber, who’s worked with the group over the past four years said that “as students, getting to know local people is something that we don’t do, we’re so often stuck inside the student bubble unaware of those who’ve grown up in these areas.” For many, Manchester is a stepping stone city, where the majority reside for a short period of time before moving on. Roeber explained, “that whilst we’re here we should create some sort of longevity by connecting students with people from the local community.” Commending others to join, she voiced how “it feels nice to be part of a project making Fallowfield greener” and that “it’s a great opportunity to take a break from student life and work with plants which I otherwise wouldn’t get to do.”
While removing a plastic wrapper from the bed of a tree base, I asked Aczel about some of the challenges the project faces. She told me that the maintenance and preservation of the tree bases have become increasingly difficult in recent times, explaining that many are the victim of drunken senselessness, littering and general disregard. Outside the Friendship Inn, one of the tree bases bares the nickname ‘the frontline’, as the group are constantly having to battle to protect it against heavy foot traffic and loitering. “We try not to feel discouraged and will continue to push back” urged one volunteer. The easiest way to combat this issue is for more of us to show greater consideration toward our local area. As students, we have a bad tendency of forgetting that Fallowfield is not an extension of the university’s campus, but rather belongs to and is shared by other people, pensioners and families.
I came across the group one afternoon while walking along White Oak Road sometime last month. In the midst of pricking, pruning and planting, I asked them how I too could get involved. Ever since, I’ve been roped in, struck by the warmth and enthusiasm of the volunteers. These tree bases play a small yet tremendously valuable role in the creation of community solidarity, and I would compel anyone wanting to be more active in the Fallowfield area to join.
To get involved, you can contact the group at [email protected]. If you live near Egerton, Whiteoak or Amherst Road or along Clifton Avenue and have a moment to spare, why not offer these little bouquets of summer a refreshing hosing of water?