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Consultant on a project by Agrinetural. Commission by the Matera 2019 Foundation 2016/17

Agoragri is a public space in Matera, Southern Italy that lies somewhere between a community garden and a public park. Conceived by a group called Agrinetural the project won support from the Matera 2019 Foundation to be realised as part of Gardentopia, a proposed network of citizens activating their greenspaces. Matera will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

I was commissioned to work with Agrinetural, a group of people with a range of different skills and an interest in creating projects to utilise underused greenspaces in Matera. My remit was to help think about approaches, methodologies and activities for engaging people in the project, particularly people who lived in the immediate vicinity. In additional to extensive skype conversations over 21 months I spent a week in March and September 2017 helping to develop tools and test out engagement activity.

The site was developed in phases with the spaces for social gathering being given priority in order attract people and encourage them to start thinking about the site differently. Agrinetural organised a programme of events over the summer to activate the spaces. The official inauguration of the site look place in September 2017 and people were invited to come and celebrate, share their dreams for the project and plant and adopt olive trees.

Tools and activities that we experimented with were creating a 3D model of the site for people to play with, a mobile cart for serving drinks and getting people into conversation, creative activities such as mono printing and sun printing with plants from the site, practical workshops on plant identification and building a bee hotel and open forum discussions on site covering topics related to the project.

There were a number of different challenges related to the project and the site, which continue to be ongoing. The site itself is surrounded by roads and there isn’t a group or building or block of residences that naturally have a sense of ownership. Agoragri like many projects of this nature is as much about growing a community as growing a garden and it will take time. There is not a history in Matera of community gardening, allotments or any kind of shared growing space. The challenge for Gardentopia overall is to continue to provoke people’s curiosity and provide opportunity for co-learning to create a critical mass of demand for these types of initiative as well as giving people to tools to develop them.