Monday, 25 June 2012

Vetch Veg- an inspiring Swansea project

This weekend we had a jaunt back to Swansea- it is always changing. Its metamorphosis from the shithole of 1999 to the city it is now is amazing. I know the locals bemoan the state of the city centre (that's a double dip recession and out of town shopping centres for you) but the cultural and community life of Swansea has sparked and caught and now burns strong. There's a rich seam of price and respect being successfully mined by arts groups in the area, and we visited one of them- Vetch Veg in Sandfields.

                                                                             A bit of background- Swansea City FC used to be based in the heart of the city, at the Vetch ground, on the seafront. I have 'fond' memories of being coralled in Tesco carpark by riot police for the mistake of being English in the aftermath of a Bristol City home match. I have sincerely fond memories of the way the city supported the club through some really dire times, and the way in which they have made themselves known in the Premier League. Part of the change toward a top flight mentality was the decamp from vetch to the Liberty Stadium outside the city. This left a large (football pitch sized, infact) area in the heart of the city with no clear purpose. There was talk of student flats (there is always talk of student flats)being built- large, looming impersonal structures blocking the city off and towering over the community of Sandfields below. Dr Roar had lived in Sandfields for a short time as an undergraduate and the thought of that area being under the constant watch of copy/paste monoliths is a sad and troubling one.

The 'Vetch Veg' project is in association with ADAIN AVION and Swansea-based artist Owen Griffiths. It's aims are to create an 'urban utopia'in the heart of Sandfields, on the site of the former Vetch statdium, with the involvement of the local Sandfields community. Part of the grounds have been transformed into a temporary vegetable garden, with raised beds, chickens and bees. The community cultivate, tend, harvest and produce together. The importance of creating a space in which to be self sufficient and growing food to eat together is vital in changing the way 'we' eat. Gardening and growing-your-own is a wonderfully confidence building activity- it relaxes, empowers, educates and forges strong bonds between those who garden together. You really feel the sense of empowerment and communtiy when you enter the garden- from the set up, from the people, from the little welsh cake stand. There is pride in this project, and rightly so.

This weekend was the Vetch Veg open day. I wanted to visit for two reasons- to see this space after the demolition of the stands, and to get some inpsiration after an awful Spring in my own garden. I have an army of slugs demolishing anything I put down, a cat who hates carrot seeds and has now dug up my fourth sowing, a bog like lawn from the 'drought' and significantly less time to garden than I had last year due to working again (but with a gardening colleague, who understands my pain). The only thing to be successful this year are my sweet peas.

This is my favourite bed in the Vetch veg garden. I love the use of reclaimed containers, the aesthetically pleasing AND practical arch, the jumble of plants and flowers and the genius use of a small space. It is so pretty, relaxing, practical and inspiring that we are ripping up our concrete slab path (it is against a fence) and using this as inspiration for some raised beds. it is a glorious example of attainable self sufficiency. Plus it's pretty. Did I mention that it's pretty?

Doesn't this gladden your heart? A small, workable space- recycling sacking into a windbreak, using string and pegs to mark sowings, using small pots to seperate delicate plants.
Cut a head of cabbage, pull up some carrots and beetroot, grab a few potatoes and all you need is a roast to go with it. All grown by your own fair hand. Unpretentious, honest food.

The garden itself was planned out to have benches and quiet spaces interspersed with the working beds. There is a workshop and two forges/kilns on site as well as a chicken coop and I heard rumours of bees. I sat on a corner bench, with the terraced hillsides rising around the landscaped grass area, in this little cordoned off vegetable garden and thought it a wonderful, cleansing, affirming space.

The people involved with the project were warm and welcoming, and as a former Swansea dweller with fond Sandfields memories I found the reclaimation of the grounds by the community in this way to be so very inspiring. As a gardener I found a lot of reassurance and a goldmine of good ideas. More of this, please.

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