The current chair of NHS Lothian, Dr Charles Winstanley, had a vision in 2009 of improving health and well being through facilitating and encouraging people in the local communities to access the land at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and in doing so create their own "community garden". He formed the Royal Edinburgh Community Gardens Steering Group - involving NHS Officers and third sector stakeholders who developed the vision and set out a brief for what they wanted to see happen. However, the NHS has a primary duty of patient care, and it is recognised by all parties that the NHS might have to sell or develop the land in the future.
The Steering Group invited tenders from groups able and willing to turn the vision into reality and Edinburgh Cyrenians (Scottish Charity SCO11052) was commissioned in December 2009 as the management agency, albeit that there was initially no funding attached to the contract.
Local community groups had expressed interest and were involved in the project even before Cyrenians had been contracted as the management agency for the project, and so when work began on the grounds many people were eager to pitch in. These early groups included Shandon Local Food, Transition Edinburgh South, Steiner School, and Napier Conservation Volunteers
Work on the ground started in late January of 2010. The three acre area in the southeast side of the site was selected because it had a history of usage as a gardening area, because it was sheltered, and because it had a range of different and complimentary growing spaces (woodland, open areas, woodland edge, etc.)
Initial surveys of the land included soil analysis and a tree survey to ensure that cultivation took into consideration the flora and fauna already on the site.
Up until this time it had been the intention that each community group would be allocated its own plot of land. However, the modular nature of the available land led the community to decide to share all the areas communally.
The land had been unused for some time, and had become a local tipping area, with everything from couches to cardboard boxes decomposing on the site.
Essential infrastructure was put in simultaneously to the early development of the land. Water, electricity, and sewage were top priorities. A portakabin was rented to provide a hub to support volunteers, paths were developed, and an operating structure was put in place. The gardens were to be open three days a week, and facilitated by a paid garden coordinator. It took a tremendous amount of hard work to clear the ground, but the local community groups pitched in and corporate groups helped through team challenges, and by April 2010 the gardens were regularly open for the planned three days per week.
For further information about the history and the development of the RECG please download our information pack