In 2018 Thurso Community Development Trust (TCDT) was little more than a Steering Group of likeminded Community Members who wanted to make a difference to Thurso by taking direct community action. The Trust had formed in January of that year as a result of a recognition of evidenced community apathy in the town and that we needed to do things differently. The first job the Steering Group had was to ask the people of Thurso what they wanted, and what they needed before putting any plans into action. It was not up to 12 people in a committee room to decide what was best for the town, it was up to the town to decide what it needed. We went out and asked them, using the Place Standard method of consultation and received 1,180 responses. Amongst those responses was a community who wanted to create greater localism, who were aware of (in 2018) the impending Climate Emergency and desperately wanted a community growing project. In our initial consultation, the area of land identified was vacant and derelict, however in the hands of a large developer and we knew that even people power could not match the likely funds for acquisition.
In July 2018 we were approached by Caithness Biodiversity Group as their lease was coming to an end in September of the Bee Bubble Garden on the edge of the Ormlie Housing Estate (an area that falls into the top 20% SIMD). The group had failed to recruit volunteers and engage the community and the 1000m2 Garden was now dormant, overgrown and very unloved. Their offer was take the Garden now before the lease expires and you can keep the shed and the tools, or leave it, see if you can secure funding but in that case we take the shed and the tools away. We immediately saw potential in the site, potential to expand, potential to fulfil the community need for a community growing project and potential to start helping the community to address locally the impending Climate Emergency.
We took the lease in Summer 2018 and applied for a Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) Development Grant to help us to do the work needed for an application. This was a meaningful process for us. We were able to visit Moo Food in Muir of Ord and held community consultation sessions using 'Shifting Normal' to inform the development of the project. Within our consultation work, we discussed plans with the community, held volunteer sessions including a very well-attended Garden Open Day complete with local food being served and gained a core group of 23 people who were prepared to set about work in the Garden tidying and planning. Community consultation was the key for us in determining the project.
We worked with other community groups and statutory agencies in forming our plans. Food Waste eventually being the area of which we felt we could have the most impact as there are no food waste collections by Highland Council in our area. Being able to work with a body of interested groups and the community was key to forming plans.
Research - In March 2018, we ran a community consultation using the Place Standard Tool to identify priority needs in Thurso. In 1,180 responses (19% of the Thurso population) identified a need to improve natural spaces, take care of our environment, develop community capacity and become a more resilient town with localism at its heart.
Approached by Caithness Biodiversity Group who had previously run a 'Bee Bubble Garden' which had fallen into abeyance. Thurso Community Development Trust saw the potential in the site and a project aimed at local food growing, minimising food waste, building community capacity, taking care of our environment and becoming a more resilient town. TCDT wanted to delve deeper into a community consultation exercise to ensure our community supported the project and it was a good fit to meeting these needs before making a full CCF application. Awarded an £800 CCF Development Grant in Aug 2018 to enable Thurso Community Development Trust to utilise Shifting Normal workshops and project planning workshops (using the Shifting Normal template) to run community consultation (online survey/155 respondents), held an open day at the existing community garden site (50 attendees) and completed a community learning exchange with a visit to a similar CCF funded project (MOO Food). Support from our community for the project via the survey data was 98%.
Along the way - Gained membership of Development Trust Association Scotland. Work regularly with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and other community organisations throughout Caithness such as Caithness Voluntary Group and Thurso Community Council. In Oct 2018 awarded funding from Highland LEADER (£28,000) and the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund (£5,000) to run a tourism development project/fund a Tourism Development Officer. We were a partner organisation in a consortium application to the Scottish Government Aspiring Communities Fund with Caithness Voluntary Group (CVG) for £180,000. TCDT were instrumental in this award of funding and it was used to employ development officers across Caithness, including Thurso identifying inequalities and developing facilities and services to reduce these.
Climate Change does not get people through the doors - A controversial lesson for a Climate Challenge Fund Project yet it was our experience. Activities/events which were marketed more widely as community events, food workshops or learning how to grow attracted a more varied and unique audience each time. Once we then had people at the event/activity we were able to engage in conversations about climate, but those which were billed as climate events performed poorly.
In a 2-year time frame...
- we grew over 500kg of vegetables, involving over 1600 hrs of volunteer time
- held over 140 events for 1000 local people
- reduced carbon emissions by over 230 tonnes
- gave away over 50 planters to encourage local growing & 50 Green Health Packs
- delivered videos, workshops (Zero Waste and Eat Well)
- planted the town square with vegetables and worked alongside 19 local groups.