It takes a lot of dedication and determination to get a growing site up and running on a campus, and it all starts with getting your land. Only once you’ve got that can the rest get rolling over the weeks, months and years to come.
But what if your institution suddenly wants the land back?
That’s what happened to the Student Eats group at the University of Sussex a year ago. But rather than giving up, their reaction to the disruption helped them forge an even stronger growing group than ever before.
Will Cragg – then president of Sussex Roots, the growing society – spent the autumn term of 2013 with enthusiastic students, building raised beds, digging a pond, and clearing years’ worth of overgrowth. Momentum was picking up. But then the university had a change of heart.
“At the very beginning of Jan, we were informed that we had to move”, Will remembers. “This was really upsetting! I felt particularly bad for all the new faces who’d done so much throughout the autumn term. We had all the groundwork in place and so many terrific plans”.
“I think a lot of people felt quite disillusioned by the news and lost interest”, he admits.
They put up a little resistance, but there was nothing they could do to argue against the plans of a development project valued at millions of pounds. Instead, keeping diplomacy open and working closely with the students’ union allowed the group to get the best possible outcome.
“The estates department were happy to compensate us for the inconvenience, and for taking an incredibly long time to notify us”, Will explains.
“They agreed to provide us with a new spot of at least the same size; to clear and flatten it; to put a water point there; to rabbit proof fence the perimeter; pay for the construction of a polytunnel; and to give us at least a year to move”
The new spot was agreed upon last summer, and work began in the autumn. Now fully up and running, the new site has helped a brand new momentum to build over recent weeks, as the team work with all the learning of two years’ experience.
“We have about 30 people taking part in working, discussions and planning, and I’m getting new emails every week from people who have heard there’s something exciting happening on campus and want to get involved”, says Will.
A year ago, the growing site at the University of Sussex was under threat and the group could have easily dissolved. Today, they’re a fully-fledged co-operative with no need for a president, and are building stronger relationships with staff and students every day.
“I feel we a far closer to becoming an integrated part of the university rather than a club for enthusiasts that’s hidden away and can only be found if you’re looking”, Will reflected.
Far from spelling disaster, moving sites at the University of Sussex has helped to strengthen the project immeasurably.
Does your institution want its land back? Here’s Will’s advice.
• Work with your students’ union and NUS
Get a representative from your students’ union to accompany you to meetings with the institution’s staff so that they take you seriously, and don’t make false promises. And don’t forget to get in touch with us for support and advice!
• Build a relationship with the grounds team
The grounds or estates team can be incredibly important allies in creating a growing site, and can open lots of doors for you – so make sure you build a good, personal relationship.
• Be diplomaticIf you stay amicable in your negotiations, people are more likely to be flexible, generous and responsive. . Don’t forget that you are involved in something really positive on campus and they should recognise that.