You and Your Back Green

During my student days, my shared flat in Barony Street used to look out onto a square of neglected back gardens. It was handy when the chip pan went on fire, as we just threw it out of the window, knowing that no one would be there and get hurt. One of my flat mates used to gaze across at the flats on the far side of the green and went in search of one of the inmates whom he later married. But that’s another story. This one’s about back greens and much better ways of using them.

Just over half of Edinburgh households live in tenements. Most of them have communal and sometimes private backgreens, the best of which have a couple of poles with a washing line slung between them, but no one hangs out washing because it’s too far to run when it starts raining. Occasionally, though, you will find neat lawns, vegetable plots and play areas and in these cases it is very likely that the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association has had a hand.


The Association was created to inspire and support folk to do nice things in their back greens, thus building a sense of community and providing genuine amenity areas instead of eyesores. By linking neighbouring backgreens, one creates ‘community backgreens’, which can share common facilities like tool sheds or play facilities for children.

The Association provides a number of different services. The first thing is to help residents contact each other to discuss the setting up of a community backgreen. This is often regarded as the main stumbling block. I know I would never have had the nerve (even if I’d had the time) to go round knocking on doors, saying, “I’ve had this great idea, care to join me?” A few meetings later, with the support offered by experienced back greeners, who can advise on legal matters, such as constitutions, insurance and training, the group is ready to go. Following the initial ‘Blitz’, the first goal is to create a ‘community backgreen’ in the centre of the site. This becomes the focus of community activities and services, as well as providing a store for tools, play equipment, composting facilities, bike sheds or whatever the residents decide.


The Orwell site in Dalry is a good example.  The community backgreen was created from a central backgreen which had become completely overgrown.  The site was cleared and the community shed (co-shed) erected.  A raised bed was built to give residents the opportunity to grow some veggies.  Mulch beds were installed to prepared for the planting of fruit trees and bushes. The tools and equipment for the regeneration and maintenance of the site are stored in the co-shed.

green-caretakersGreen Caretakers
Green Caretakers is a backgreen maintenance service.  Customers can choose the services which are appropriate to them, for example, site clearance of weeds and setting up compost facilities, designing and building a new layout and running courses on growing fruit and vegetables. Everyone involved receives a handbook explainging how to maintain the new backgreen. The Green Caretakers even provide a fortnightly backgreen maintenance service, cutting the grass, removing litter and managing the plants.

Dig for Victory
One month on from the outbreak of the Second World War, the Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.  Folk on the ‘home front’ were encouraged to transform their private gardens into mini-allotments. By 1943, over a million tons of vegetables were being grown in gardens and allotments.

The ECBA ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign is a tongue in cheek campaign to get folk involved in their backgreens and in doing so, their local community. *** “We also believe that an effort to grow food locally (whether in backgreens, allotments or from veg box schemes) will have a positive impact upon the challenges of climate change by reducing food miles.”

Running a small raised bed or a larger allotment is also great for your health and wellbeing and  ECBA offer a monthly Grow Your Own course to teach folk how to grow fruit and veg. There is a charge for these courses but anyone who helps out regularly on the Backgreen Blitz’s can attend for nothing.

These Background Blitz events meet every Saturday across the city to regenerate tenement backgreens into beautiful community greenspaces. Three teams have been established, one for each of the neighbourhoods currently active.  The Blitz teams are made up of volunteer residents who work together to regenerate tenement backgreens in their local neighbourhood, then leave the residents to take over the maintenance. As few as 5-10% of the residents is all that is needed – and typically all that is offered. Besides regenerating tenement backgreens, The Blitz is very much a social wellbeing event, offering fresh air and exercise and enabling strangers to become friends through a common purpose.

The Northside neighbourhood is the area between Leith Walk and Easter Road.
The Southside neighbourhood is made up of Marchmont and Newington.
The Westside neighbourhood is made up of Gorgie, Dalry, Polwarth & part of Shandon.

Workshops covering various aspects of gardening will be held on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Saturday of every month between April and October, on a different site every week.  The 4th Saturday will be for the Grow Your Own course, specialising in growing fruit and vegetables. Additionally during 2009, ECBA will be holding worksops and other events to help tenement residents to reduce their carbon footprints.
If you would like to join your local group, or to set up a new one, get in touch on 0131 243 2698 or

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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