Story 98 - Digging Society
Devonport Community Baptist Church,
By Micheal Shaw 01/04/2021
Many years ago, in a previous church, I was offered an opportunity to help with an allotment space. It didn’t work out for various reasons, but it inspired me to write a blog about whether an allotment church was a possibility (see below).
When I moved to my current church, Devonport Community Baptist Church, I was shown around a house the church used as church office which also has housed various members of our church at the time, but at the back was a huge space, ideal for a community allotment. However, it was being loaned out to a homeless hostel next door to the house to enable them to train some of their residents in life skills such as growing their own food. It was well looked after and well used.
Over time staff moved on, residents left, and the garden was slowly less required. The garden fell into disrepair, but I had other things on my mind. During the November Lockdown a married couple started attending our church online, and then when allowed, in person. One day the wife shared her dream to do a community allotment on social media; I read and immediately replied, that it was also a dream of mine and I knew the location for it!
I showed her round and she shared that she had another friend who might be interested. I showed her friend round, hoping she would be up for it, but always saying that if the commitment was too much, to say no and that she should pray, before saying yes. I was unaware that, firstly, this was her dream too and secondly, God had put on her heart to do something in Devonport many years before.
I should share a little about Devonport. We are a deprived community on the edge of Plymouth, and the very edge of Devon. Wealthy until the second world war, but thanks to the bombs of the Luftwaffe (one of them landed on the garden that we are now using), a failure to reinvest post war and a decline in manual jobs in the Dockyard, has seen the community become one of the most deprived in the South-West. You are likely to die in Devonport 7-10 years younger than other parts of the city, we have the highest child obesity rates in Devon, and higher than average eligibility for free school meals. Food poverty and health related problems are a major issue for the people here.
There are no local allotments in the Devonport area, we have very small gardens and people are very unlikely to be able to grow their own vegetables. None of the team need the food for themselves, so the intention of the allotment is to give local people access to grow their own but also for people to take fresh food home with them.
We started the project during the post-Christmas lockdown, with a view to clear as much as we could with a small team, but we have slowly expanded the group and, thanks to some contacts in the local school, we have got a few kids and parents who have shown an interest.
Over the next year, we are hoping to continue to grow the project, including more local kids and hopefully (at different times) some folk from the neighbouring hostel. While we are not overt with our faith, we have placed Celtic prayers from the Northumbria Communities prayer book on the raised bed, the compost and on the gate. These are intended both to bless the work that we do, but also raise questions for local people as to why we are doing it and we have already had a number of people enquire as to what we are doing, as it is quite a public space. We are all people of faith, but our intention is to grow into a very mixed group of people of faith, people interested in faith and those of no faith.
Maybe my dream from over a decade ago and the dream of the others in the team to create an allotment church is coming into reality!
Mikes Blog : (http://mikepcshaw.blogspot.com/2011/02/allotment-church.html?q=allotment