Campaigners have launched an ambitious appeal to save Peterborough’s Green Backyard “one square foot at a time” in a bid to keep the site from developers.
Volunteers at the community gardens on Oundle Road face a race against time to buy the 2.3 acre plot, which has just been put on the market by land owners Peterborough City Council.
The volunteers are hoping to raise the cash needed by securing £10 donations for each square foot of the site from members of the public,
The appeal is based online at www.thegreenbackyard.com.
Supporters will receive a certificate thanking them for their donation and will be encouraged to get creative by making signs of support and uploading selfies with them to social media with the hashtags #SaveTheGBY and #OneSquareFootAtATime.
The volunteer-run charity has been told it has until January 2015 to raise enough money to buy the site.
VOTE: Would you donate £10 to try to save the Green Backyard?, closes 3 December
The campaigners have already been given a boost by support from some high profile personalities.
They include Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project botanical gardens in Cornwall.
He donated £10 to save the first square foot of the site.
Other supporters include celebrity naturalist Nick Baker, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, award winning garden designer Adam Frost and thousands of local residents who signed a petition protesting against the councils plans.
In July last year, the Green Backyard was named as the city’s first legally recognised Asset of Community Value under the government’s Localism Bill. It is this which gives the volunteers the right to seek to buy the site.
Co-founder of the project Sophie Antonelli said: “Clearly this is going to be a huge challenge, but all around the country there are already groups of people who have stood up, worked together and successfully purchased the assets that are important to them, and we can do it too.
“The public support of The Green Backyard has really kept us going through what has been a very difficult couple of years, and I feel like now we’ve come out fighting.
“If all of our supporters just donate a small amount of money then we can meet this challenge and we will be able to build a future for this space that is based on local people rather than huge developers.
“Peterborough City Council have always said that it will support our bid to stay, but the timing of the sale and the way it has been conducted seems to suggest exactly the opposite.
“That’s very disappointing for us but it won’t deter us or our supporters from buying the land, if anything it makes us more determined.”
Sophie and her father Renny founded the Green Backyard six years ago. The land had been used as allotments for 50 years and had become disused.
But father and daughter worked hard with supporters to transform the site into one that is used by thousands of people every year, becoming a venue for education, events and the arts.
Chairman of the board of trustees, Rich Hill said: “When we have secured the site we will begin to build our education centre, a community cafe and office space for start-up enterprises using the best in sustainable architecture, with the garden, and all the good work that takes place within it, remaining at the heart of everything we do.
“We will be a flagship project that builds strong and supportive communities across this city we love.
“You can get involved in the campaign to save the Green Backyard by donating, or holding your own fundraising event.”
Jonathan Lewis, the council’s assistant director for corporate property, said: “In September we gave the group six weeks to express an interest to purchase the land and made it clear after this time the site would be put up for sale. The group has a further six months to find the funds.
“The site has now been put up for sale by informal tender and we will be taking bids until 16 January 2015. If the Green Backyard is unable to provide the funds by March 12, 2015, we will enter into negotiations with the winner of the tender process.”
Related: Race to find £750k to save pioneering Green Backyard project, 12 September
Eden Project boss makes first donation
The campaign to save the Green Backyard has been given the full support of Sir Tim Smit, the founder of the award-winning Eden Project, which has contributed £1 billion to the Cornish economy.
Sir Tim has donated £10 to save the first square foot of the London Road site.
He said: “I’ve bought a little piece of the Green Backyard because it matters. I’m really proud of what’s been achieved up there.
“It’s actually individual people ganging together to save a really valuable piece of nature, for everybody.
“So if you care about the natural world, if you care about places where people can come together and learn about our dependence on the natural world and grow things then put your hand in your pocket, it’s only a tenner, and once we’ve got the money it will belong to all of us, forever. Isn’t that a great deal?”
He added: “I urge councillors and officers charged with taking such an important decision to think long and hard before they act.
“They may regret damaging a fledgling that might yet develop into the soaring bird that will represent the new dawn for Peterborough as one of Europe’s greenest places.”
Carly Leonard, chief executive of Peterborough Environment City Trust, said: “The Green Backyard brings people together to learn new skills, get healthier, appreciate the natural environment and to have fun.
She added: “It’s such a valuable community resource.”
Factfile: the Green Backyard
The Green Backyard was created in 2009 by father and daughter team Renny and Sophie Antonelli.
It is run by volunteers and quickly become a favourite for many city people.
The 2.3 acre site had previously been allotments for 50 years but had fallen into disuse.
September 2010 the site is host to a live arts jam featuring 40 artists.
In 2011 classrooms and workshops had to be pulled down so new power lines could replace ageing underground cables.
In 2013 the site was made an Asset of Community Value by landowners Peterborough City Council.
In May 2014 Renny and Sophie were included in a national newspaper’s Happy List for the work they had put into the community.
October 2014 the council reveals it plans to sell the site as prime development land.
A herculean effort starts by the Green Backyard to raise the finances to buy the site off the council.