Garvagh (from the Irish Garbhach, meaning "rough place" or Garbhachadh meaning "rough field") is a village in Co Derry, Northern Ireland. This small piece of land has evolved over the past millennium through different forms of ownership and management. Garvagh village was developed in its current lay out by the Canning family from England in the 17th Century following the 1640s rebellion with land confiscated by the Crown from the Irish O’Cahan clan. The Canning family built the ‘big house’ in the forest. It was then sold by the Canning family to the Forest Service in 1947 and has been owned and managed by them since then. Garvagh Forest today is approximately six hundred acres and is a mix of broad leaf and conifer.
The Garvagh People’s Forest Project has been a five-year journey (2017-2022) noticing, valuing and growing the relationships the communities surrounding Garvagh Forest have with their forest and with each other. The project has been funded through the National Lottery Community Fund and was triggered by the closure of Garvagh High School.
The project’s ambition has been to grow collective consciousness around the interdependence between the wellbeing of the forest and the wellbeing of the communities in its ‘oxygen catchment area’ and to begin exploring what it might take to reframe what we mean by ‘community”– the flourishing of all life’s beings and not just human beings with citizens at the heart of decision making in the stewardship of the forest and village.
A key focus of the project has been advocating for greater citizen voice and participation in the management and care of the Forest. As part of this we ran a participatory budgeting process called Commoning Possibilities (2020-2022) exploring what it might mean to start seeing what is around us as shared and held in common and whether, through noticing differently, new possibilities might emerge for ourselves and with each other.
Participatory budgeting (PB) is about "local people deciding how to allocate part of a public budget". It is a way for citizens to have a direct say on how public funds are used to address local needs. It has three core elements:
We used PB as it invites people into a different way of thinking and practice about their relationship with each other within the community and, with the commons.
We initially had a pot of £5000 through the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland; we then raised another £5000 from local businesses and organisations. We then proceeded to set up a ‘citizens design group’ made up of clergy, local businesses, sports clubs, artists, community groups, residents and youth groups to design and oversee the process. The next task was to begin informing, engaging and animating all sorts of people and groups from 8 years and up in the ‘oxygen catchment’ of the forest about what ‘little ideas’ they would love to make happen that would forefront care of people and/or forest.
A total of 44 ideas were submitted totalling coming to £22 000. And between 6-10th December 2021 everyone who lived, work, played or learned in the ‘oxygen catchment’ of the Forest used a preferential voting system to choose the ideas they thought would be of most value and most feasible at this point in time for the pot of £10 000. We had ballot boxes at each of the six surrounding schools, the Fold and the Community Building whilst also inviting people to vote online. Over 1000 people voted with 22 projects receiving the money requested.
So where does the Doughnut come in? Well from January 2022 we convened a series of reflective gathering between all the 44 bidders to begin playing with the Doughnut and start using it to map the projects, grow the connections between ideas (for example, the project focusing on access to healthy food and the project around food waste) and begin to deepen the conversation about what the ‘little ideas’ might tell us about community priorities and energy. A really interesting outcome what that it helped people in the room name what we are silent about – for example domestic violence in the social sphere and land ownership and management in the ecological sphere. It was also very empowering as people were able to place what matters to them in a bigger picture allowing them to feel less alone and isolated and bringing deeper purpose. A key phrase that shaped this process is ‘what we choose to notice, will grow’. The Doughnut brought our attention to a visual, a value base and a route map which opened up possibilities. The Participatory Budgeting process gave people some resources to begin making things happen.
There is a weave of relationships that has grown stronger over the last five years, between
different groups and people and between the town and the forest. We would like to build on this through the frame of a Forest Town and develop a Forest Doughnut Incubator.
We know that it is the people who live, work, play or learn in and around the Forest that will
always be the most imaginative. We would like to create a platform to support the beginnings of ideas for growing a different kind of economy in the wider area informed by a
participatory budgeting approach. We would begin to build a community endowment fund to invest back into innovation as we explore how we edge towards growing a circular
economy and address issues of poverty and wellbeing.
Get inspired, connect with others and become part of the movement. No matter how big or small your contribution is, you’re welcome to join!