For the past few years I’ve been blogging about all the positive aspects of being involved with a community garden. I’ve shared the social, physical and mental benefits we all experience, the fun, the laughter and the feelings of belonging and friendship that develop as groups evolve.
However, I wouldn’t be giving an honest, rounded view if I didn’t admit that sometimes things go wrong. As with any community in life, be it family, club, school, workplace or college environment, people fall out. It’s human nature. We might take offence at a throw away comment, not think before we speak, talk too much and not listen. We might not share the same objectives or like it or not, we might just generally be a pain in the backside because we don’t know or haven’t learnt to behave any better.
The fact is, conflict exists and some of us deal with it better than others. We’re not all born the same, naturally equipped to deal with insults, misunderstandings or hurt. Isn’t that what’s supposed to be great about being human, our differences? What’s important when conflict does rear its ugly head however, is how well we deal with it as it arises and that we don’t ignore or run away from it.
Conflict and Community Gardening
Conflict within our groups in one form or another is an issue that most coordinators and tutors will come across during their working lives, and yet it’s not something the majority of us are trained to deal with. Large, charitable organisations such as Scouting Ireland offer excellent and compulsory leadership development programmes for their volunteer leaders, but what about the rest of us who don’t have access to those opportunities?
We scratched the surface of conflict management in Cork on Saturday at the Community Gardens Ireland meeting in Knocknaheeney/Hollyhill when Thomas Reidmuller of The Hollies spent a few hours with the group sharing his knowledge of some soft skills that coordinators and tutors might find helpful.
Thomas offers conflict, communication and mediation training courses or one on one training in various centres around Ireland and is in the process of delivering a three-part, in-depth course in Cloughjordan Eco Village on Community Conflict Resolution and Mediation.
Community Gardening Tutors Want to Make a Difference
Every community garden tutor and coordinator I’ve met is passionate about their work. We want to help, we want to make a difference, we want to share our knowledge and skills and make the world a better place and it’s great to hear that there are communication and skills workshops in place that can help us. However, as usual there’s an obstacle. Most gardening tutors don’t have the funds to pay the kind of fees to attend these weekends. We’re not working in an industry that’s known for its high wages and even ETB paid tutors, who do receive good tutoring rates, might only pick up a few hours a week here, and a few more there.
Community gardening in Ireland is growing in popularity. Although I can’t give you exact figures as yet (we’re working on it!), as a coordinator of the Network, a purely voluntary organisation, I’m hearing about new gardens springing up on an almost weekly basis. As an example, the Network’s Donegal rep, Joanne Butler of OurGanic has recently taken over the coordination of five new gardens and in Cork, the Food Policy Council are planning to free up space throughout the city to bring people together who want to engage in growing. From my own perspective, I’ve been busy quoting and designing community garden projects in and around Carlow and Kilkenny and further afield too.
So what’s the answer?
Having listened to comments made at this month’s meeting and as one of its founding members, I’d really like to see the network in a position where it can offer heavily subsidised training to community garden coordinators and tutors or anyone who wants to set up community gardens in their area.
When asked for feedback on Saturday, coordinators and tutors flagged areas they’d like to develop their skills in. Conflict management, filling out grant applications and seeking funding, as well as the many other projects that tutors and coordinators get involved with aside from their usual horticultural activities were highlighted. As agencies and policy makers look to trainers, who are in the most part self-employed, to help them develop projects that include social enterprise and social inclusion, we need the training to be able to do that to our best ability.
And to do that we need to attract some funding.
So this is a plea. If you know of anyone or anyhow or anyway, that Community Gardens Ireland, whose aim is to support community gardens, allotments and CSA’s in Ireland and Northern Ireland, can get access to such funding or sponsorship, please leave a comment below or contact me directly via the channels above.
We’ll be forever grateful. Thank you