Connie Dales, Creative Assistant
A few weeks back – and goodness only knows what Google rabbit hole I fell down to come across this particular Daily Mail (*shudder*) article – I had the good fortune of being introduced to the residents of an anonymous stretch of terraced houses in Middlesbrough, site of what I can only assume The People are now calling The Great Garden Alley Transformation of 2013.
The story goes like this: not thrilled with the congregation of rubbish, rats and rascals in the shared alley behind their row of houses, a group of residents, led by the one and only Mavis Arnold, planned and executed a revamp of the space, funded by a £6800 grant from the authorities. Now, I don’t claim to have an extensive knowledge of outdoor wares and their pricings, but a short trip to mumsnet informed me that a garden renovation, and we’re talking individual gardens, averages £5000, so I don’t think £6800 is exactly an inordinate amount of money for the job.
Be that as it may, the change is very impressive. From a dirty, uninviting jitty – so these alleys are called, apparently – to a communal area where the residents can relax, families can play, and all can put their green thumbs to use. The space is lined on all sides by an eclectic range of garden furniture, from tables to ceramic ducks to benches to bird cages; flowers and shrubs in abundance, even on the walls; and a varied offering of fruit and vegetables to be tended to.
In a society where time spent outdoors is dwindling, small pockets of community initiative, like this one in Middlesbrough, can make all the difference. With neighbours of all ages having access to the space, the passage can be a hub of social activity and a way to look out for each other. No one has to be alone when such an uplifting space is literally on their doorstep. So not only has it been a physical transformation of the alleyway itself, it’s also changed, in a very positive way, how these people can and do interact with nature and with one another.
Upon further research, I learnt that Middlesbrough is home to ‘something of a gardening revolution’. One of the groups responsible for this is Alley Pals who, as the name suggests, focus their efforts on alley gardens such as that created by Alley Pal member and local legend, our good friend Mavis. After the disbanding of Middlesbrough Council’s Back Alley Improvement Team (BAIT), Mavis and the gang became the only ones working on the ongoing development and maintenance of these spaces. A whole community transformation masterminded by the community themselves.
I am in awe of their efforts and how they’ve turned out. I just vaguely considered starting something similar myself and that was enough for me to appreciate that, no, I’m very unlikely to.