What is a croft?

According to Collins online dictionaries, ‘In Scotland, a croft is a small piece of land which is owned and farmed by one family and which provides them with food’ or it is ‘a small enclosed plot of land, adjoining a house, worked by the occupier and his or her family, especially in Scotland’.

There are several important words and phrases in these definitions:

  • small enclosed plot of land
  • adjoining a house
  • owned
  • farmed
  • family
  • provides them with food

In order to supply themselves with food, the members would need to have significant knowledge and skills, and these would ideally be complementary (if we assume that no single person can know everything). There is an implication of co-operative endeavour and, for the family as a whole, self-sufficiency. For this to be viable, family members would need to be mutually supportive and relationships harmonious. ‘Family’ also implies multiple generations caring for each other and, not least, the raising of children and the passing on of knowledge and skills from one person to another and from one generation to the next.

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A pioneering urban croft: Leith Community Croft

Aware of all that is implied by this concept, and of the history and traditions of crofting in Scotland, from the time we identified the neglected two acres of common good land at the northern extremity of Leith Links (though open to the public, a discrete ‘enclosed plot’, surrounded by hedges and fences), we thought of it as potentially a new version of the croft: an urban croft, which would bring together the disparate and isolated members of the Leith community (technically all co-owners of the site) as a harmonious and co-operative family, working together to share their experience and skills, to address each other’s needs, and to raise children in a healthy and responsible way, in touch with nature and the land.

When the City of Edinburgh Council granted us permission to manage this land, with and for the local people, Leith Community Croft was born: a pioneering urban croft at the cutting edge of community-controlled land. (This has subsequently been officially recognised and endorsed by the Scottish Crofting Federation.)

Spreading the concept

Leith Community Crops in Pots (LCCiP) is a totally community-led Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, set up, to ‘encourage and support the people and organisations of Leith to grow food vegetables, and flowers for bees, in urban spaces, in order to improve health and wellbeing, community cohesion and environment’. We have already worked (and continue to work) with local schools and other partners.

Now we aim to bring even more of the community of Leith together around the two-acre Croft site, which hosts an old and dilapidated pavilion building which we intend to refurbish: the ‘house’ adjoining the farmed ‘plot’, as the definition of a croft would have it. (See Nourishing Leith for more on our plans for this building.) Most importantly, we wish to encourage and support others to form their own urban crofts throughout Scotland and beyond, and shall be offering a variety of services to do just this.

Urban crofts: a force for good

To conclude, we emphasise that urban crofts are more than community gardens and very distinct from allotments. They foster a collective ‘family’ spirit, and can act as a powerful force for good in a world of growing inequality, loneliness and alienation, and environmental catastrophe.