Agamemnon, a co-founder of the Edible Bus Stop, was fortunate enough to grow up on a community farm just outside of New York. There’s little doubt that what he’s drawn from this has been instrumental to the launch of the Edible Bus Stop and to its success within the community. He describes the place of his upbringing as having the “openness of Scotland and the mentality of Totnes.” How then could the move to a dead end street in Lambeth where no one knew or spoke to one another come as anything but a bitter culture shock?
Yet it wasn’t hard for Agamemnon to asserted himself on this Stockwell street. He was a permanent fixture in the front garden; instigating conversation and provoking competitive growing. It wasn’t until early February 2011 when a planning permission notice was posted by a bombed out space by the bus stop, that Agamemnon realised the weight of his enthusiasm. Within seven hours the notice had been torn down and four people had turned up on his door step seeking solutions.
The possible discovery of the rare Stag Horn Beetle on the land became the proposed focus of the protest as Agamemnon drew on his professional experience in law and architecture to build a strong legal case against the development. The street and community rallied to try to halt the developer, a template petition was posted on Facebook, plus over sixty handwritten petitions were sent to the council. This in itself gives a nod to the demographic of the residents stirred by the cause. A plan to plot a community garden in the bombed out space was afoot.
It wasn’t plain sailing. Chinese whispers relating to vested financial interests began and a pub landlord refused to host a group discussion, banding their meeting as “political.” Things continued to look grey until the developer himself made a plea to the street, attesting that he was “just like [them],” he said “I have three kids and need to build a three bedroom house.” This reignited the fire in residents’ bellies. The general presumption had been that if anything was to be built on the land it would at least be affordable housing not development for private gain.
Spurred on united against the planner, they resumed action. A Sunday was chosen and fifteen people arrived to dig. They invested hours in turning the soil, working their way through rubbish, bullets, syringes and scrubbing graffiti. They planted daffodils and herbs, a mural was painted and a community garden was born. The mural may well have been painted over by the council shortly after, but this is beside the point. The Edible Bus Stop had moved in.
In the following weeks, plants and boxes of manure arrived on Mak and Agamemnon’s door step, and it wasn’t long before the fruits of their labour were blossoming; sunflowers were coming up, a core group of volunteers had been established, and the bus stop was the centre of a communal street party, one which attracted the local council and enticed the Mayor of Lambeth to stay out all night.
As it happened, the gardens’ security unpredictably took care of itself, in the form of the psychiatric patients of next door’s Lambeth hospital. The patients who had taken to looking down from their ward had formed quite an attachment whilst watching the gardeners below. Woe betide anyone who tried to help themselves to the garden – vandals were pelleted with abuse from the windows above so that they quickly became the focus of the street.
Agamemnon highlights a pivotal moment as the point at which people stopped smoking at the bus stop. At first the stop was littered with butts, and then being as it was so close to the garden, people began to bin them. Eventually people just stopped lighting up at the stop altogether. He sees this act of respect as part of a wider change in people’s attitudes in relation to the street and community. One person alone would be unable to make this change but the solidarity of the preceding months had positioned the Edible Bus Stop as a thing of value and worth taking responsibility for.
What seems to have been the key to the development and traction of the Edible Bus Stop is the project’s visibility, and, its openness. It’s raised questions of how we each see ourselves within our community. We could see ‘the bus stop’- an everyday place in the heart of the community being harnessed as a site of resistance as being symbolic in so many ways, yet at the most basic level we’re able to value it simply as a space where food, a common human necessity, grows. It’s also been a space in which community interaction has been able to play out; it has created a space for dialogue. A dialogue which has developed as residents have come to see it as common ground, created for the benefit of everyone with no inside incentive or external funding. The Edible Bus Stop never has had any fences.
The snowballing popularity of their webpages exemplifies the breadth of their success. Success both in the garden and in inspiring like-minded acts around the globe. Mak Gilchrist and Will Sandy, Creative Director at Edible Bus Stop are now working to spread the projects roots along 322’s journey from Clapham Common to Crystal Palace. They also exhibited Edible Bus Stop themed gardens at Hampton Court Palace flower shows.
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