"O dirt, help us find ways to serve your life, you who have brought us forth, and fed us, and who at the end will take us in and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit."
Last Saturday the Railway Gardens project reached a major milestone as we celebrated the end of planning and the start of construction! Over a hundred and forty people gathered at the site for tea, cake and a wonderful ceremony.
We were honoured to be joined by the Performing Arts Choir from Willows High School, led by Mrs Windmill-Lewis – given that this was both a Saturday and the first day of their half term holiday we are especially grateful! They took to the stage (well – a pile of gravel pretending to be a stage!) to open the ceremony with ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, (you can watch their performance here) beginning with an impressive solo from Gwion, and were followed by a poetry reading by Mark Drane. Mark, director of Urban Habitats, has generously shared his expertise with the project in many ways, including working with volunteers to create a social impact assessment to help us understand the project’s potential. He chose a wonderful poem by Sharon Olds called Ode to Dirt, quoted at this top of this blog.
Next up we heard from Linette Johnson, a local resident who has been involved with the project since it’s earliest days. Linette is a member of StarGarAllot, the local community allotment who recently achieved their Green Flag! She spoke about Railway Gardens as a place for everyone, saying “Whatever ideas you’ve got – whether we can use them now or in the future – please bring it, and we can share it.”.
Next we were treated to some music from local artist Francesca Dimech, who got everyone joining in with Aderyn Melyn and then sang What a Wonderful World in English and Welsh (which may have made Becca and Hannah a bit weepy).
Next up we heard from Lucie Taylor from Social Farms and Gardens and a Green Squirrel director. We can honestly say that the project could not have happened without Lucie, who helped us so much in fighting Cardiff Council’s 2018 decision to sell the site for development, and has brought so much persistence and positivity alongside her expertise.
Council leader Huw Thomas was up next, and he spoke in praise of the community’s vision and hard work. Huw lives locally to Railway Gardens and has advocated for the project since its early days.
And finally we heard from Year 11 Willows students Tanisha and Precious who spoke about the value of community and branded the project Splott-tastic – thanks! Precious shared a quote from Margaret Wheatley that really spoke to us:
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
To close the ceremony the Performing Arts Choir sang What About Us by Pink. As our ground at the site is a bit too stony for a traditional ‘first shovel of earth’ groundbreaking, we decided to plant some fruit trees instead. These were kindly donated by Suttons Seeds who told us “Suttons is pleased to support the Railway Gardens community project in Cardiff with a donation of fruit bushes to help create an allotment which the whole community can benefit from, this will give people of all ages the opportunity to learn new skills and a chance to grow their own food, which is both hugely rewarding and wonderful for our wellbeing.”
As Railway Gardens is about to become a building site from next week, the little trees will be fostered by Cylch Meithrin Glan Morfa, Ysgol Glanfora, Adamsdown Primary, and the wellbeing garden at Willows High.
And as if this fantastic ceremony wasn’t enough, we were very lucky to have spooky Halloween play activities and pumpkin carving with support from Play Wales and Seren in the Community, and the mobile Benthyg van joined us too. This clever electric van powered the tea urn (very important) and brought along loads of kit for the event which was a huge help.
The next time we will all be able to come together on site as a community will be next summer, when the construction of the basic site facilities will be complete. The Ground Breaking – or Ground Honouring as Mark perfectly described it – was a perfect way to close this chapter of the project and welcome the next one. We’d like to give our grateful thanks to:
- Sian and Charlotte for running brilliant play activities.
- Naomi and Richard from the Benthyg team for kit, power, and awesomeness.
- Matthew for stepping in at the last moment with photography – he took all the great pictures in this blog.
- Nia, Ailsa, Vickie, Kate, and Stephen for volunteering on the day – we couldn’t do it without you.
- Lara and Jonny for filming.
- Volunteers Ken and Justin-Peter for coordinating donations.
- Willows staff and pupils for being so supportive and generous (and extra thank you Nicola for bringing lush cake!)
- Florence for tea urn logistics!
- Fran for perfect musical choices.
- Suttons for their donation.