Making and Collaborating on a Volunteer Day

Like many visitors, vice president of Stantec Architects David Martin was curious about the story behind the making of the current Skip Garden. How had this unlikely assemblage of structures been created and in such an unexpected location? We got talking and collaboration was the word that caught his attention.

I explained how the Skip Garden has emerged through creative engagement of a diverse range of stakeholders. One aspect of this has been learning to resist the need to pin everything down. This has enabled a different, less controlling rhythm to come through - a rhythm that is more aligned to the collaborative patterns of nature. During the time we have been working amidst the intense construction of the new King’s Cross development we have observed the desire for a more organic and potentially more creative way of doing things. This is not just between the Global Generation team, but also with the businesses and other institutions with whom we collaborate. Inevitably, we have been faced with the sometimes constraining requirements of planning permissions, building regulations and complex legal agreements. However, time and time again we have witnessed a hope -  a belief - in a lesser-known and, I would say, more enchanted world that lies within the mechanical world. Consequently, the agreements our lawyers have produced have been cleverly couched in phrases such as ‘with reasonable endeavor’.

Collaboration is a theme that is deeply ingrained in the DNA of what Global Generation and the Skip Garden is all about – whether it is in the garden, the kitchen or the way we think about leadership in the organisation as a whole. This extends to the professionals who have worked with us. The current Skip Garden was led by Jan Kattein and Julia King, tutors from the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture whose respective PhD research highlighted collaborative ways of working. The spirit of how the garden was created seems to provide an unspoken call for others to get involved in its future iterations. It was no surprise to me that not long after our conversation David emailed to ask if his office could come and volunteer their time and learn more about collaboration in the Skip Garden.

Many of the stories and ways of working that have begun in the Skip Garden with children and teenagers find their way into these volunteer days for businesses employees. The day with the team of architects from Stantec was no exception. We began with a telling of the traditional Maori story of the three baskets of knowledge - on an understanding of self, other and connection. This knowledge was given to the tallest tree in the forest so that humans would walk well on the earth. The story is an invitation to think about qualities that are important in cultivating conditions for collaboration between ourselves and the natural world. As we sat in a circle, words like listening, care, perseverance and patience were spoken between us - qualities which informed the hands-on action of the day. 

One team broke up pallets, then measured, sawed, positioned and nailed the wood onto a new chevron façade for the Skip Garden Kitchen. Meanwhile, another team designed and built a new bench out of 400-year-old timber sourced from the Granary building in King’s Cross.

At the end of the day, each of us reflected on the collaborative qualities we had experienced throughout the day. We did this through the ritual of ‘freefall writing’ and sharing with the group. These are some of the words that came:

Listening: You have everything you need; just look around you and listen.

Awake: As the day progressed, I embodied that thought of being mindful of all the little activities that this communal space fosters.

Creative: Today I proved to myself that I can be creative far from a desk and a PC, and, more importantly, I felt we are creative together as a team.

Patience: I started to cut up the pallets for the chevron wall all guns blazing - I didn’t get very far. I learnt to slow down and developed a good technique - slow, rhythmic and sure.

Many thanks to Stantec and the countless others whose enthusiasm and hard work is what brings the Skip Garden to life.