Blooming Amazing Alley
It was not in the plan of the IGNITION project, but under the COVID 19 restrictions, the project had to review its citizen engagement activities. It had to question, what feasible feasible under these circumstances and what could bring people eventually a positive experience as an added value? From the project’s citizen engagement survey in 2019, the team knew that greenspace was very high on the well-being agenda of Greater Manchester citizens. 97% of the respondents wanting more greenspace. The park user survey in 2020 – already under the COVID crisis - showed that the appreciation has even increased. Accessible greenspaces offered one of the few pleasures and relief for residents. In this situation, the idea of a competition for establishing ecostreets was born and successfully tested thereafter. The question today is: What has been left from these small projects and the ecostreet approach after the project ended in April 2022?

With ecostreets, local people are empowered to design themselves smaller streets, community backyards, all type of smaller unused or degraded places in their community. In a competition in summer 2021, 45 community groups had applied to green their alleyways or other smaller neigbourhood places. The teams from Groundwork Greater Manchester, a partner of the IGNITION consortium, and We Love Manchester, another local charity, have been overwhelmed by the response and the creativity of people. At the end, they selected four projects and have supported their implementation with further information, general and specific advice, and small grants. The ecostreets came to live as already described earlier in the webarticle Ecostreets – How small-scale action can inspire large-scale solutions.

Ginnel Garden Alley - green roof over bins
Ginnel Garden Alley. credit: GM Groundwork

The spaces have been tiny compared to the original targets of IGNITION to develop innovative financing schemes to support a substantial uplift of greenspace for climate-resilience in Greater Manchester. The project team had seen the ecostreets competition rather as a testing this as a participation tool to tackle some of the challenges with greenspace development and maintenance. And indeed, the approach seemed to work for the participating neighbourhoods. They got active and, learned about nature-based solutions and their multiple benefits – not just reviving the space, offering social space for children to play, neighbours to meet but also for nature and climate-resilience in general. Residents also developed proud, strengthened the community and developed a sense of ownership, which helps to maintain these spaces. 

The ecostreets established after the competition in 2021 still exist and are appreciated highly by their communities. The groups have received vouchers at the end of IGNITION to continue. Blooming Amazing Alley has created a series of outdoor rooms, bird feeders, have winter activities and run a Facebook group. Ginnel Garden shows its beautiful greenings on Instagram and Boscombe Street has established a series of raingarden planters and window boxes. 

Blooming Amazing Alley
Blooming Amazing Alley - Lady of the Gorse. credit: Elena, from Gorse Hill Amazing Alleys

The Pigeon Park – a small run-downspace in a low-income area with lots of pigeons - had not such an easy start. There has been a problem with rats due to bird feeding practices. Staff from Groundwork GM went out and had to teach the residents on how to feed the birds in a better way to reduce the rat problem. The project became more founding and further re-designs have been made including a rain garden, flower beds, and proper bird feeders. The re-opening is expected in April. This has been and still is a valuable learning experience for the supporters. 

Could the experience with the first four ecostreets now been used to upscale the implementation of multiple ecostreets and community approaches across Greater Manchester as a contribution to make the city region greener and more climate-resilient? There have already been some overspills by the competition – further groups been informed on future funding pots and provided with resources to help them green their places by themselves. The established ecostreets themselves work as inspiration. For example, Blooming Amazing Alley (Gorse Hill Amazing Alleys) is situated along a school and has affected students passing by and increased their awareness.  

A key factor for substantial upscaling has been the set up of the Greater Manchester Environment Fund and, as part of it, the Greater Manchester Green Spaces Fund, where money from different sources is pooled to support greenspace and nature-based solutions. That is the needed funding source, where ecostreet projects could tap in now. 21 further projects have been selected in the first call of the fund.

Groundwork GM continues now to develop projects where ecostreets are part of. Back in 2021, the competition element of the programme built excitement and awareness of the programme. Groundwork GM and We Love Manchester did a lot to encourage and enable communities to apply with their projects – the application process has been made as easy as possible in a language that normal people would understand, and they have been supported with knowledge. However a more targeted approach seems to work better for ensuring more equity amongst areas of higher deprivation or lacking in greenspace. Today, Groundwork GM screens the metropolitan districts systematically for such areas and vulnerable groups. In a map application, the location of groups is overlaid with the level of deprivation in areas that very often having little or underdeveloped greenspaces. 

participants of an ecostreet creation
Participants from Blooming Amazing Alleycredit: GM Groundwork

Then, the community advisors of Groundwork GM, the Green Space Fund Advisors, zoom into these neighbourhoods and explore further the different citizen groups living there regarding their way to act and behave in the neighbourhood and their very specific needs and wants. This provides an idea of what and where ecostreets should be encouraged and developed, and how to access and motivate people best. In some areas, the culture of certain minority groups may play a role, people of colour, older people, people that may not be fluent in English or generally have no knowledge on how to establish and manage more greenspace themselves. These groups are often more isolated.  Much more direct conversation is needed to build up trust and interest with them. Personalising the approach to the people at the neighbourhood appears to be necessary. In Pigeon Park, a major concern for people is rather the rat problem than nature-based solutions. Solving that by an improved design and education first, opens up for the other pleasures of good quality greenspace. 

Sometimes it is, however, not feasible to activate citizens in a street. The advisors would not force residents to take action, even if the place would really deserve an upgrade. Then, supporting residents a few roads further down that have already started to take some small action can create a tangible example for people to experience. This could make the deal and encourage residents in the originally targeted area to follow the example. With all that, the community advisors try to connect to initiatives and activities already established in the neigbourhood having a close tight to residents, may it be at health building, libraries, community centre, a mosque network, or a women group.

Boscombe Street
Boscombe Street. credit: GM Groundwork

With the new way to identify areas, groups and working with these with the support of community advisors, the ecostreet approach could not just upscaled across Greater Manchester but will support more equality, fairness and greening in the city region, which are the pillars of Greater Manchester’s vision in its Strategy 2021-2031. The 21 projects selected by the first call of the GM Greenspace Fund will be followed by further ones in the upcoming calls. It has been an ongoing learning process not just for citizens but also for Groundwork GM and other supporting charities, like RHS, City of Trees, WWF who are also board members of the GM Greenspace Fund. The advisors to the Fund exchange frequently on their experience and solutions that have worked or haven’t. This enables them to refine their support and make a better and lasting impact of the funds provided. The ecostreets are indeed tiny places, but the small-scale approach has started to establish a valuable, tangible, and replicable business case for the involvement of communities in co-designing, establishing and maintaining greenspace.

Text

Thanks to Amy Wright, Lydia Marshall and Aimee Brough Groundwork Greater Manchester for the interesting talks
 

About this resource

Author
Birgit Georgi, UIA expert
Project
Location
Greater Manchester, United Kingdom
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions
Programme/Initiative
2014-2020

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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