top of page

The Spirit of the Place

Originally published 2nd March 2017

This morning on Radio Scotland they were discussing hospital food.

Some NHS Trusts are spending less than a pound per patient per meal, and many are sourcing the ingredients of their inadequate meals from far afield – such as getting their chicken from Thailand. Think of the food miles, never mind animal welfare!

I believe that the state of hospital food is a symptom of a profound lack of spirit of place in our society.

Neoliberal capitalism, with its Cartesian, dissecting, atomising, fragmenting, competitive, short-termist approach, has separated people

  • from the natural world,

  • from each other

  • and from the very land on which they live.

The silo mentality has pervaded local and national politics.

Departments compete for limited funds, as money goes to the rich – to bankers and the biggest land owners – and the overall return on investment, in terms of societal wellbeing, goes down the pan.

The charity I founded – Leith Community Crops in Pots – might seem to be about no more than encouraging people to grow their own food. In fact, it is about cultivating a spirit of the place to combat the societal sickness we see evidenced in hospital meals.

Elements of this sickness are:

  • a profound disconnect from ethics

  • a disconnect from each other

  • and a disconnect from the biosphere, of which many of us seem to have forgotten we are a part.

We at Crops in Pots are about restoring the best of the remaining spirit of the place – of Leith – and about creating a new spirit of the place here, drawing on elements of Scotland’s past and on activities elsewhere in Scotland, and further afield. Important elements include

  • the history of the commons,

  • the crofting tradition,

  • and the forest schools movement.

It is no accident that our community growing space, on common good land, is called Leith Community Croft, and to that fact we have been endorsed by the Scottish Crofting Federation.

It is no accident that a major focus is on children. We work in schools and on the Croft, letting children simply run free in a semi-natural environment, as well as getting their hands dirty in more structured activities, learning where their food comes from, and seeing adults working together in a real community.

So what spirit of the place was there, and is there, in Leith… in this densely populated urban area?

  • Well, obviously there’s the football – an element that has been here a long time.

  • Many years ago there was the port, and the communities around that – a distinct local identity that has largely been lost.

  • The Scottish Executive is arguably a new community unto itself.

  • In my childhood I can say that I didn’t feel there was much of a positive, supportive community left.

  • Drug addiction was a huge problem. (Indeed, I became a drugs worker.)

  • And there were lots of unhappy people buying unhealthy food from large supermarkets.

I decided that my children needed something better:

  • They needed to eat well,

  • They needed to play outdoors with other children, and

  • They needed to see adults working together for the common good.

I converted the barren communal concrete yard, next to the flats I live in, into a green space, full of crops in pots, and I saw how the children thrived – the behaviour and educational level of the children I was fostering improved dramatically! – and nature came back: bumblebees buzzed in what had been a desert.

Other people saw and appreciated what I had done, and demand led me

  • to set up the charity,

  • to work in schools

  • and to give others the opportunity to make contact with the soil and with each other.

Leith Community Crops in Pots, and Leith Community Croft, were born.

  • Many people, who would not otherwise have met, are now friends.

  • Many children now know where there food comes from.

  • Most importantly, I would like to think that the children who are growing up with this new spirit of place, should they end up working for NHS Trusts one day, would never dream of feeding hospital patients chicken imported from Thailand.


bottom of page