During the COVID-19 lockdown the Croft on Leith Links is thriving. Everyone involved will tell you of the joy they take from the place, and how it has become a sanctuary in the city. You could even call it ‘the new pub’: a space for social gatherings without those hangovers! Being two acres, there is enough space for people to connect whilst also maintaining social distance. We have had to make several major adjustments to make this possible. To name but a few, the shared tool shed that Crofters usually use has now been closed. It is an infection risk. Instead, Crofters who don’t have their own tools have been given some of ours to keep for their personal use until lockdown is eased and the contagion risk has been eradicated. We have also recruited Health and Safety volunteers to ensure that social distancing rules are adhered to.
I look back to when Gordon Munro – local legend and much respected councillor for Leith ward and then Chair of the now dissolved Leith Links Regeneration Group – made the monumental decision to hand this piece of common good land over to the Leith community, with our organisation as the community’s representative facilitating its transformation. I’m not sure that at the time he realised just what a forward-thinking and radical change he was helping us co-create. Yes, it’s true that the Croft vision has yet to be fully realised. The issue of the decaying pavilion needs to be resolved for it to truly blossom. However, it functions well despite the challenges, and has helped many Leithers thrive in the present crisis.
Why has it become such a hub of (socially distanced) activity during lockdown? Firstly, it is outdoors and that is a big bonus during COVID-19 days. Secondly, we have helped the community develop a vision for the Croft, one founded on important values, prioritising a climate-friendly food system and with social justice at its core. Admittedly, though, while many locals do ‘get it’, I know that it isn’t yet as widely understood or appreciated as it should be, but we can see clearly that the Croft offers umpteen benefits, including meaningful jobs for the future.
Good things happen when you have a vision and talented folk to implement it. Tom kicked off our COVID-19 operations with our ‘Bikes for Key-Workers’ initiative that now appears to have spread across bike shops all over the city. He is busier than ever fixing up old bikes to give away to essential workers. It is such a shame that we cannot clone Tom. Not only is he an excellent bike mechanic, he is also a brilliant horticulturist and tree expert, as well as being our joiner and the person who constantly makes good the vandalisers’ mess. (Indeed, he repairs it all so quickly the community hardly notice that the vandalism even happened!)
I am so grateful to all our employees and freelancers, and very much too to the huge number of volunteers who have come forward to help us with our community food project and with our related market garden. Community spirit is alive and well in today’s delightfully diverse Leith: we have people from so many backgrounds working and volunteering together. It’s a microcosm of what the world should be like.
Good as things are, though, we could certainly do even more. The Croft should be looked at closely by Leith schools as an outdoor education space to help get children safely back into schooling. Our ‘Minecroft’ nature survival project which we pioneered last year was an instant hit with both parents and children. The Croft could be a Covid-safe eduction space for our locked-down children.
Talking of things which could be better, I’d like to add that the Good Food Nation Bill being dropped is a huge blow to Scotland. We should be doing everything possible to bring some of the GFN asks into the Agriculture Bill. Sofie Quist’s recent excellent guest blog on the Nourish Scotland website emphasising the importance of recognising the right to food, highlights something vitally important. Food aid has been the go-to emergency solution and, whilst admirable in the short term, isn’t the way forward in the longer term. We cannot begin to overstate the importance of our ‘human right to food’; it simply must be enshrined in Scots Law. And let us not neglect the number of young people in Scotland who want to become an active part of food production, evidenced by organisations like ours which attract hundreds of people, including through the vital work we do with schools which meets with great enthusiasm. People of all ages do not want to be passive recipients. The young climate strikers show no sign of growing up with any less ambition than the adults we work with today.
In conclusion, now is the time to embrace change. We see urban crofts in our cities and large towns as a significant way to harness people’s discontent and empower them to be part of, and shape, a system rather than watching it unfold (arguably catastrophically) from the sidelines. This is what our organisation is all about, with people right now hard at work (or ‘at play’ because it is, by and large, enjoyable) growing healthy and sustainable food on Leith Community Croft (while, I emphasise, observing COVID-19 safety recommendations!) It’s high time that we, as a society, took the food system – and urban agriculture as part of it – more seriously. Done properly, it offers solutions to many of today’s problems, and I invite you to explore our website to learn more.
The Croft is my church. Nature is my religion!
Peas, love and bumblebees