Here is some inspiring news from Transition Buxton about their recent signing of a lease to take over a former Council plant nursery:
Background & History
The Serpentine Community Farm (aka ‘The Serpentine Project’) is a partnership initiative being run by the Food Group arm of Transition Buxton C.I.C., in association with a number of local organisations including Buxton & Leek College, the University of Derby and High Peak Borough Council. We are also enthusiastically supported by Buxton Civic Association and Buxton Town Team. It is expected that, in the next few months, a new ‘Serpentine Community Farm C.I.C.’ will be established to include members of the project group of Transition Buxton C.I.C. and of these associated organisations.
Our proposal focuses on an area of land running alongside the Serpentine watercourse to the west of the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton (subsequently referred to as ‘The Serpentine Project’). Previously the area had been used for the cultivation and supply of plants for the Pavilion Gardens. In recent years the area has fallen into disrepair and the owners (High Peak Borough Council) have been looking at ways to utilise the existing space.
HPBC are interested in having partnerships with community organisations to transform run-down buildings into assets for the good of the community. Transition Buxton presented the Regeneration Committee with plans for transforming the area into a community education location and was given the opportunity to develop a business plan for the project.
The HPBC have now issued Transition Buxton with a licence for volunteers to work on the site, covered by Transition Buxton insurance. A proposal has been prepared by HPBC officers to issue a 25-year lease on the whole site to Transition Buxton. We are hopeful that this will be considered, alongside our detailed business plan, by the appropriate Borough Council department and the cabinet in the first quarter of 2015.
Work to date
We were given a licence to start work within the ground-based area of the site, the buildings being still allocated as out-of-bounds, in July 2014. Since that point, we have had 10 Volunteer Days, primarily on monthly Sundays, but with Wednesdays also included during the winter to try and include the local Public Service Students. We have had a total of 146 volunteers, contributing 462 volunteer-hours to the project.
From the start we cleared the overgrown scrub that had taken over the site, and the debris left behind by the former occupants. We have cleared many thousands of plant pots (estimated 2000kg), with many more still in the buildings. These were uplifted by a shortwalk to be recycled into other products. We had received some funding for the purchase of tools for Volunteer Days, but mostly we have relied upon time and using whatever we can find on the site. In addition to this, we have been given a special Judges’ Award by the visiting judges of East Midlands in Bloom for the potential the site holds for the community and horticulture.
We have reached the position where we will be able to construct a working Polytunnel by February of this year, and the start the process of growing. We hope to move all the produce out to raised beds by late spring / early summer. Other current projects include inoculation of the tree trunks we have felled in order to grow mushrooms and building a composting toilet (no facilities currently on site).
Key aspects of project
- To restore the area to a functioning market garden, producing fruit, herbs and vegetables;
- To develop as a horticultural training/teaching centre for all ages and backgrounds, through the collaboration of a number of local organisations;
- To involve the community in local food production with the aim of reducing dependency on imported food;
- To employ conventional horticultural techniques and investigate potential new crops informed by permaculture principles in the development of the site, in order to become self-sustaining by 2019.
We envisage the project developing in three key phases:
Phase I (early 2014 – late 2015)
– Clear site of debris and make safe
– Renovate the greenhouse and construct polytunnels and raised beds
– Begin planting of produce
Phase I continues with preparation of the site for the spring 2015 growing season:
– Building of raised beds
– Rebuilding Polytunnel 1 using the framework already on site
– Building of a composting toilet facility
– Creation of a small pond to encourage pest predation
– Restoration of the greenhouse, by replacing broken glass and applying a safety film of plastic to the glass
– Building ‘dead hedges’ for site security & wildlife value, using on-site brash
– Laying paths
– Production of salads and other seasonal annual crops from early in 2015 to supply local restaurants and college kitchens
– Finalising the business plan
Phase II (2015 – 2016)
– Planting the larger trees and shrubs and perennial plants that will make up the forest garden
– Erect Polytunnel 2
– Establishing a teaching programme in association with local schools and the University of Derby / Buxton & Leek College
– Start of courses / educational aspect
Phase III (2017 – 2019)
– Renovating buildings
– Continued development of the site infrastructure (i.e. green roof canopy), and teaching range & content
The majority of the main restoration and planting of the site in the early stages will rely heavily on volunteer help, as well as students gaining valuable outdoor experience. We are currently in the process of forming a separate C.I.C. from the main Transition Buxton organisation in order to run the Serpentine Project. This will operate with 6 to 10 directors, all of whom would be volunteers selected for their relevant experience. Most of the individuals required are already involved and possess a broad range of valuable experience between them, and there will be space reserved on the Board for representatives from the University of Derby, Buxton & Leek College, HPBC as well as Transition Buxton members. Some of the roles outlined for the directors include Chair/Spokesperson, Public Relations Coordinator, Treasurer, Administrator, Fundraiser, with other roles to be developed in time. In the long term, we look to employ one grower / Centre Manager in charge of operations and day-to-day running of the centre.
Plants / Crops
We need to take into account the somewhat unique climate of Buxton and its altitude to determine what will be productive but we can draw on the experience of local allotment holders to tell us what works. However, with a renovated greenhouse, 2 polytunnels, raised beds and a forest garden, we expect to produce a selection of salad leaves and annual vegetables through the growing season, alongside a range of other high-value and unusual crops from perennials, such as bamboo tips, wasabi, hosta greens, barberry and Sichuan pepper, as well as shiitake mushrooms grown on wood from the forest garden.
Local supplier sources
We have currently made use of local surveyors and glaziers to estimate the costs of potential refurbishment of the greenhouse and buildings. We have progressed so far by relying on volunteer labour and sourcing whatever materials are required from the site itself. This includes felling trees for use of timber and mushroom production, plastic pots for plant growth, old window frames for cold frames etc. We have operated so far with virtually no budget or funds.
It is envisaged that in time and with the increased use of the facilities by outside agencies, such as the University, that we will be required to employ a part-time manager alongside University staff/volunteers. In time, we hope to plant a larger amount and variety of food to supply local businesses and restaurants as well as the University catering courses. There is scope for a wide variety of courses at the site, primarily horticultural, but with the potential for food-related courses, such as introductions to preserving / drying / bottling of the crops.
Photographs and video of the site can be found here.