As well as questionnaires for evaluation, there were also a few interviews carried out. Here are some extracts from interviews with the two project workers Mick and Kate, and Adam from the steering group.
Mick Chesterman, project worker
Before Green Zone, I was doing a lot of community media work, but found that I was really envious of people doing community gardening work. They got to work outside and “play‟ more, and also work with a wider section of people too, from young to old. That was my major reason for applying for the job at Green Zone. I also had been working on the Leaf Street community garden anyway, and it seemed like a great opportunity to know that particularly community garden well, and help people achieve what they wanted to do.
There was stuff about the job that I knew would be a real challenge – for example, being a bit of a bridge between feisty tenants & residents association and a relatively new landlord. I was also putting myself in the firing line being in the middle, and that was a real challenge. But it wasn’t as if I went into the job completely unaware of these things; I knew that this was going to be an issue.
My personal achievement in this role has definitely been in developing planning skills, particularly because of working within a job share. It wasn’t easy but I think I’ve developed a lot of skills doing it and am much more comfortable now with planning a project jointly with other people. I’ve also learned how to schedule without lots of last minute stress. I’ve also developed my horticultural skills, and feel confident in being able to do a horticultural project in a community setting. I now know what needs to be in place also for running training and support in terms of logistics and planning too.
My project highlight was getting a DVD and series of online videos together that shows the different specific horticultural workshops that have happened on leaf street and around as part of the project, because in one place there‟s a lot of super useful but really specific skills that you can look at and know how to do as a result. That is really good because these are things that have really drawn people to Leaf Street and the community garden. So it’s actually do all of that and then have it so it’s available for other people to look. That was a highlight for me because it’s a resource. It’s the most exciting for me and the area where we got a really good response and really good feedback.
I’ve definitely developed a bit of a thicker skin from doing this role – and am better at not taking it home, and not getting too emotionally involved. I’ve also got loads more connections on the estate and know people much much better than I did, and that’s really positive. I do think there is more love on the estate now, compared to when we started. For example, if someone needs helping out, it feels like people are more willing to give.
Kate Every, Project worker
I’ve got a background in ecology and development and I’d always wanted to work in housing, so when this job came up, it seemed ideal as it had all of those elements. There have been a lot of challenges in the role – working with a steering group, working in a job share, working on a community project that’s based in an office. I think that all of these things did affect how successful we could be.
I would have liked to have spent a lot more time out there, door knocking, talking to people, just generally being around. But we’ve been so tied up with having to produce reports – for the steering group and funders, as well as spend so much time responding to emails and dealing with the realities of working within a housing association. So, you get to the end of the week and you realise that you‟ve only spent an hour or so on the estate. I think that if I was starting over, I’d sacrifice some of the office stuff, if that would be possible.
One of my project highlights was our film screening of The Green Wave, by Real Manchester. Loads of people turned up and we’d left space at the end for other people to show other videos and stuff and someone had brought a video of Spider Park, the demolition. It just felt that there was a really good atmosphere – there were loads of people, and it just felt like a really good get together. It just turned into a cool event and loads of people stuck around. It’s been a crash course in inner city Manchester, and I‟ve learned a lot more about how to get through to different people. I think the key things I’ve learned aren’t specific skills, but things like perseverance, resilience and patience. I also like it that I can now walk round the estate and it feels like there‟s quite a few people that I can have a chat to. That feels like a big achievement.
Adam, steering group member
The Greening the Redbricks group had been going for over a year – not just working with City South to help them make choices that look after the future of us all on this planet, but also trying to make stuff happen ourselves.
We want to make the estate a better and nicer place to live, with active groups, and one that encourages communication between residents and supports communities to develop. We want to try to build on the experience over the last 15 years or so of active people on the estate, whilst trying to address where we’ve fallen down. We want to try new things, and to be open (to change).
With the changing demographic of the estate, plus the huge increase in vehicle ownership, we’d already talked about the idea of Home Zones, especially for children, and how to make the streets better shared between all users.
The estate has long been a place for innovation in a variety of ways. The funding we bid for Green Zone seemed perfect – to bring together the social and environmental sides, to support community activity, to learn from and support each other and to try and tackle climate change on a local level. We wanted the project to build on the stirling work done by many people on the Redbricks, to address changes that have happened or are happening that impact on residents, and to tackle some of the problems, and the limitations in how we do stuff.
The content and goals came from brainstorming ideas and identifying needs, both of individuals and groups on the estate, and reflecting on the successes and failures of initiatives over the last decade and more. From this we could make an action plan and timeline.
Because we thought that a project based on Community Development values would hopefully mean that it was not only resident-led, but also that social justice would be at its heart, we were able to use these values to reflect on the ideas and methods behind the Green Zone.
What makes us different from some places is that we’ve had the opportunity to make use of the skills, experience and passion of residents to improve the community. Some of this has been down to chance; a lot has been from sheer hard graft, organisational ability and creativity.
We’ve used different approaches at different times to suit different situations – campaigning, working in partnership, community and direct action, getting small pots of funding, and doing without, relying on our own ability to make stuff happen without having to compromise our ideals, and so on.
We try to use the skills and knowledge of the people round the table, but also not forget who’s not there, try to figure out why, and what they could bring to the feast. Tackling inequalities has to be a basis if we are seeking to build a supportive and co-operative world. So much of making stuff happen where we live is eased or hindered by our experiences of and skills in working in groups.
It’s not enough to engage people in our or anyone else’s agendas – instead we must try to support participation and the creation of new initiatives, creative and different forms of collective action, in order to make everyone’s dreams more of a reality, grounded in a just and sustainable world.