A community vegetable garden in the centre of Swansea, developed as a response to a public art commission by Adain Avion for Cultural Olympiad Wales. Developed in the square mile of my home on the site of the iconic Vetch football field, in the Sandfields area of Swansea; a space which had been derelict for years and was earmarked for demolition in its centennial year of 2012. It became a 2 year project engaging with over 5000 people.
The Vetch ground had been an important cultural landmark for many people and was synonymous with the club’s development and place in the community. The local authority was keen to sell the site for development opportunities and were also considering car parking schemes - all in an area of the city where no community green space or play space was allocated. The project begun with a dialogue with the community of the Sandfields about the idea of accessing the land and what we might do together there. After consultation sessions in church halls, schools and community spaces we developed a proposal around securing a 3000 sq meter part of the site for community use and launched Vetch Veg.
2011-12 The iconic ground where Swans team triumphed under John Toshak and where Stevie Wonder, The Who amongst others had played, was demolished, the material scrapped, and the history erased. During the demolition I secured access to the site via the contractor to save any potential materials from being lost or scrapped. Roofing panels, sweeping brushes, tanoy system speakers and other items were saved.
The ground was crushed landfill with many of the aspects of the stadium still visible such as gates, signage, glass sunk into the wall tops. We started working and accessed the site via the players entrance which led in to the centre of our site.
We began by building simple raised beds from scaffolding planks - importing topsoil and manure from local sources. People made structures, tables, benches, improvising with materials. We soon realised we needed a kitchen / café and created a simple construction from pallets donated by the local prison. We built a composting toilet, two polytunnels, trained beekeepers, planted an orchard, created exhibitions of the project for Cultural Olympiad Wales, hosted meals, gigs, built a shed and library. We hosted a festival of ideas with Glynn Vivian Art Gallery bringing Alistair Hudson, Grizedale Arts, Nina Pope, Shimabuku and others including works by Juneau Projects, Fern Thomas and Peter Finnemore to Vetch Veg over two days of gigs, talks, workshops and dancing.
Over 150 community members came forward to work with Vetch Veg including churches, schools, the Chinese Community retirement centre, the local mosque and many others.
The Sandfields is a hugely diverse area of the city and one of the challenges of working in the Sandfields at the beginning was the marginalisation of the different diverse communities by typically white members of the community - with racists stereotypes and offensive opinions. The garden was a great arena for overcoming a lot of community division in a very gentle and positive way – working together to deliver something, sharing resources, finding common ground. Many people remarked on the participation and connection being deeply rooted which was a result of long term work on the community.
The local authority also stated we would only be allowed to have the land as temporary use for 9 months. This was extended when the project gained notoriety and they could see how it was developing a critically needed resource for the community – both socially and sustainably.
Vetch Veg is recognised as a culture shift project in Wales. Informing policy with Arts Council of Wales, local authority helping to create the first cabinet member for sustainability in Swansea Council and 20k worth of public funding to start community green projects in Swansea.
Vetch Veg continues as a community green space and is run by many of the participants who we began this amazing journey with. The gardeners have since began to plant orchards outside the VV site, lobbied for play equipment, planted wildflowers planting and have resisted any future urban development by creating a Peoples Park campaign which has been successful.
In one early community meeting someone quoted Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
This was printed and pasted on the wall of the garden with other images, quotes and texts about land use, community and activism.