UrbanRoots logo

Urban Roots

Urban Roots is a community-led organisation committed to working with local people on projects that improve the environment and health of the area through a range of activities. The project tackles food, energy and transport issues within the broader context of climate change and community resilience. 

UrbanRoots pic

What are the aims and objectives?

The aim of Urban Roots is to inspire people and communities to connect with nature and take practical action that tackles the root causes of climate change.

Urban Roots’ work is underpinned by the belief that, with the earth’s climate and ecosystems under strain from the impact of human activity, local people working collectively can find solutions and offer a sustainable alternative by building greater community self reliance and self sufficiency.

In the long term, the project aims to build a new community resource using sustainable eco-build methods and renewable technologies where people can share skills and knowledge. Urban Roots is part of a growing movement developing urban agriculture and local food growing based on permaculture methods in partnership with other similar organisations.

Why was the project set up? Has the approach changed over time?

Urban Roots evolved from the Toryglen Gardening Club which was founded in 2004 by three local people who had a shared desire to improve the area. Within five years, and with funding secured through the Fairshare Trust in 2007 to employ a Development Officer, Toryglen Gardening Club created not only a range of community gardens in the area, but also several other community projects designed to raise awareness about environmental issues, make the area more environmentally sustainable and self sufficient, and create a more pleasant and health promoting place to live. Urban Roots was officially launched in June 2009. Urban Roots is based in the Toryglen Community Base, a one-stop shop hosting various agencies which offer services for people living in this area.

The project has developed over time and continues to change and adapt in response to local need and the wishes and ideas of the local community and volunteers to ”connect with what people want to do”. The initial focus of the project was community gardening but over time this has broadened to include environmental conservation, raising awareness of the contribution of the environment to health and wellbeing, local community development and regeneration, social inclusion, education, and the development of the local economy. 

Who are the participants and the partners?

Urban Roots is based in Toryglen, in the south of Glasgow. Involvement in the project is not limited by geography or any eligibility criteria. The participants, a mixture of men and women, range in age from recent school leavers to people in their 60s. Up to half of all participants who attend regular activities are recognised as vulnerable with common issues including mental ill health, alcoholism and learning difficulties. The activities and courses provided attract a range of genuinely interested people and new volunteers come from this.

“We work with anybody and believe everybody is equal.

The project works closely with local resident groups and schools and nurseries to help them to develop their eco schools programmes, to deliver school garden and biodiversity projects, to provide climate change education and deliver environmental arts projects. 

Urban Roots has four staff and up to 70 volunteers and works in partnership with Glasgow City Council, Friends of Kings Park, Transitions Scotland, Cassiltoun Housing Association, Battlefield Community Project, and many others, and is supported by and a range of funders.

What does the project do?

Urban Roots sets out to deliver projects that inspire and empower people to take positive steps to improve their environment and quality of life. Ongoing work focuses on community gardening, conservation and biodiversity, and climate change education. Threaded throughout this work are health, youth and arts themes. 

The project delivers and manages a wide range of activities for local community members, groups and schools. These include:

  • Community gardening: maintaining and developing five local community gardens around Toryglen; helping out in school and nursery gardens, building raised beds and keeping public spaces tidy; weekly fruit barra selling low cost, fresh fruit and vegetables at a local church. 
  • Malls Mire Community Woodland: once per week a team of volunteers work on this community nature reserve by managing woodlands, planting wildflowers, creating and improving pathways and access and also learning how to make small items out of birch and cherry with a woodworking expert.
  • Planet friendly living: a wide variety of workshops for community groups, children and adults that look at some of the facts, causes and effects of climate change, and appropriate responses.
  • Eco-schools: working closely with local schools signed up to the eco-schools awards programme: composting, food growing, wildflower, tree and hedge planting. 
  • Kidz clubs: spaces for young people to learn about the environment in a safe and friendly atmosphere. 
  • Energy descent action plan: helping the community to respond to a decline in the availability of cheap energy and to become more localised and self reliant. 

The work of Urban Roots is celebrated each April at the local Blossom Festival with arts and crafts activities, plant sales, drama and music, storytelling workshops and discussions on climate change. Healthy food, using locally grown ingredients, is also provided. Power comes from Urban Roots’ own renewable energy system. 

From the outset the project has strived to involve local people. As time has gone on and the range of initiatives developed, the presence and visibility of the project has attracted interest and drawn people in. The project is an “initiative owned and run by local people”, rooted in the local community with volunteers and trustees living in the local area. Due to the high level of community involvement there has been little vandalism. 

“Having a nice outdoor space pulls people together and you can share what you know.”  

The work of the project depends on volunteers. Involvement brings about a range of benefits to those who volunteer including learning about health and wellbeing and a social element. Within an area in which people may feel marginalised and are lacking in other outlets for their time and energies, these benefits are of particular importance.

Volunteer teams take on many different projects with Urban Roots such as transforming derelict or unused green spaces into thriving, blossoming community gardens where herbs and vegetables, fruit and flowers can be grown. This improves the attractiveness of the area and helps to create more used, social and safe places for the whole community. The project listens to people and is open to possibilities. Urban Roots encourages engagement with environmental arts as well as gardening – the project is not just about getting ones hands dirty. 

“Ownership and empowerment of the local environment.”

Urban Roots offers a range of courses which are delivered by project staff including ‘Grow Your Own Food’; ‘Cycling with Confidence’ and ‘Your Money, Your Planet’. Regular cooking courses, ‘Great Grub’, are also offered along with general advice to hep make the links between saving energy and reducing expenditure and the effect this has on the planet. 

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

Urban Roots starts from where local people are to establish the issues that are important and relevant to them. This approach has led to the development of a range of initiatives. Urban Roots encourages people to take action on local environmental issues and utilises gardening and local projects to make the links to and raise awareness of wider global issues such as climate change. 

Participants and volunteers confirm the wide therapeutic benefits of the project.  Urban Roots offers the opportunity to spend time outdoors and to meet new people, as well as a sense of achievement. Volunteering outdoors and re-establishing a connection with the natural world brings additional benefits including increased physical activity, improved mental health and enhanced wellbeing as well as healthier eating. A number of project volunteers require additional support and the project offers a safe and structured place to work as part of a team, to make new friends, and to build confidence and new skills.

“We work with what people are interested in.”

In addition, the wider community reaps benefits from the work of the project’s volunteers. The creation of a safe greenspace where none had existed previously represents a tangible improvement to the local physical infrastructure and a valuable community resource. Those volunteers who help to run the fruit barra or get involved in the Blossom Festival, have gained not only a sense of ownership and achievement but have also conferred benefits to the wider community.

Urban Roots works to empower individuals by supporting them to build confidence and the development of new skills and assets. People learn general skills including how to use tools, and more specific skills such as dry stone dyking and first aid. A number of volunteers have gone on to further education courses and, for others, volunteering has encouraged them to consider routes back into employment. The project starts with the assets and resources in the community such as the woodland, open spaces and the people, and focuses on the wider community impact of the project for the common good. Furthermore, the project supports people to make changes for the better by enhancing their skills for resilience, relationships, and self esteem, through building mutually supportive networks and friendships which help people to make sense of their environment and to take control of their lives and make sustainable improvements.

How has success been measured?

Project activity and performance are regularly monitored and measured by means of assessment every two months. Each participant discusses and agrees what progress will look like for them, how they can be further supported and a personal development plan is put in place.

What are the strengths and challenges? 

Urban Roots provides a flexible response to the wishes of each participant and strives to find an activity or area of interest that suits everybody in an inclusive nature. The project provides opportunities for outdoor work, development of new skills and social benefits through making friends and working together with others on a cause the participant believes in, thereby widening horizons and creating new opportunities and relationships. Urban Roots passes on environmental messages through a variety of routes in a non-judgmental, fun, creative and supportive way.

Since the project’s establishment, Urban Roots has created and maintained over 100 square metres of productive organic fruit and vegetable gardens in Toryglen which are managed weekly by local volunteers and supported by Urban Roots staff. The project has also created almost 150 square metres of food growing gardens at schools and with community groups. A lease for a further acre of land is currently being agreed with Glasgow City Council. 

“We establish connections between people and the urban world and build connections with nature.”

Furthermore, the project has increased awareness of local and global environmental issues and developed skills and confidence in over 70 volunteers by providing weekly volunteer opportunities in organic gardening and sustainable woodland management and offering learning experiences in organic horticulture, orchard care, composting, sustainable woodland management, healthy eating and cookery, climate change awareness and environmental crafts. Through these activities the project has brought people together, built community capacity and connections and broken down social and cultural barriers.

Uncertainty around future funding was identified as a challenge for the ongoing projects. Due to the current funding model, the project is working on a year-to-year basis making it difficult to plan for the future. Staff expressed frustration at the conflict between the short term nature of their funding and the long term plans they would like to put in place. As Urban Roots takes a whole community approach, identifying appropriate funding sources was raised as a difficulty as a number of funders have specific target audience criteria. The project is also currently considering a number of ways of generating income, including the sale of the produce grown.

The project strives to find a balance between supporting local vulnerable people with additional needs, providing experienced volunteers and staff to support them and providing a project for the whole community.

The area of Glasgow where Urban Roots is based also poses challenges for the project. The project community is divided physically by the road and socially by religion – the project plays a key role in breaking down barriers to bring people together. The area also has a diverse and transient resident population as Toryglen is home to a significant migrant and asylum seeker population.  However, this population possesses significant assets in terms of experience, education and skills.

“We connect with what people want to do”.

On a personal level, staff expressed high levels of job satisfaction and found their involvement in the project to be rewarding. Clear community connections have been built through the project and positive changes in the outlook of the residents of the area and the immediate physical environment are visible. Participants spoke of the importance of the project in bringing like minded people together and enhancing the sense of community. Participants expressed gratitude for the amount they have learned through the training courses and activities provided by Urban Roots.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  environment, health, social capital, transport