Grow your own leaders

by Sue Sheehan, IEL Director

Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL) has partnered with Lambeth Food Partnership and ImpactHub Brixton to deliver a collaboration & leadership development programme for food activists. IEL, like many community organisations, has often found itself with too few people, too little time and good people suffering from burnout. So it was with great interest we heard about the ULab programme, developed by action researchers at Massachusets Institute of Technology that was  being pioneered locally by ImpactHub Brixton. We took part in the first programme and went on to co-create a version focused on food.

 

We called the ULab Food programme Grow Your Own Leaders. It was launched on 9th March, with 68 people expressing an interest in the course which could take a maximum of 25 people. Through a mutual agreement process 25 people have signed up to work together over the next 6 weeks – learn about one another and find ways to work together so that we really can see Lambeth become a more healthy & sustainable borough. But the aim is that many more people will feel a part of the programme – and that after the first few weeks these newly invigorated ‘leaders’ will be reaching out for more people to collaborate with.

 

Already we have mapped the Lambeth food system and visited a couple of food projects, including Crystal Palace Food Market, nominated for a national BBC Good Food award last year. The visit included some time for ‘listening’ and comparing thoughts and ideas over coffee – not just going to see what it is all about but how to think a bit more deeply about what it might mean in terms of creating a better future.

 

For more information about the course and to follow it in progress please visit ulablambeth.blogspot.co.uk and follow us on Twitter #ulablambeth.

Public green spaces that really deserve investment

As a director of Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL) and founding director of Brixton based ‘The Edible Bus Stop®’ (EBS), Mak Gilchrist, has a passion for encouraging the growing of edibles in the urban environment, the breaking down of neighbourhood barriers by generating conversations and creating landmarks of pride for communities. Resident of Brixton for over 30 years, she, along with the team at the EBS and fellow directors of Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL), are firm believers in the importance of keeping public land public and crucially, accessible.

“A recurring thread of The Edible Bus Stop® (EBS) projects is the importance of keeping public space as a public asset. This also forms an integral part of IEL’s philosophy. Selling or leasing public land provides only a short-term solution to the holes in borough council’s budgets. Particularly, when it forms such a vital asset to urban life, especially in the crowded and polluted London environment.

The original Edible Bus Stop on Landor Road SW9 was born out of a feeling of unease at the prospect of the neighbourhood’s one green space being sold off to private developers. What started as an ad hoc guerilla garden, had public opposition see off an outline planning proposal. Thanks to support of IEL in the early days, within two years, the newly landscaped garden, now known as the Kerb Garden, became the first of the Mayor of London’s Pocket Park schemes to be realised.

The EBS continues to grow its Edible Bus Route TM , which currently consists of three growing spaces and a fourth in the germinating tray. Following the 322 bus route, it makes use of existing transport infrastructure to connect communities. The Hoopla Garden in West Norwood grows native and wild plants. The Edible Bus Garage in Crystal Palace sells its herbs at the local farmers market. Each garden is individual, with the neighbourhood it sits within tending to its needs. All improve an area’s look and feel, offer wellbeing benefits, enhance biodiversity and aid in the reduction of air pollution. However, the prevailing theme is their edibles. WE ALL EAT.

EBS started in Brixton but now works across London. Next month will see the realisation of an ‘Edible Avenue’ installation in Thessaly Road SW8. The project creates links between New Covent Garden Market and local residents by creating an animated and playful public growing space. This will be a platform of communication that forms a narrative as the area changes.

“Unlike traditional community gardens, our spaces are open and inclusive 24 hours a day, and balance form with function, with a strong emphasis on design. They are the essence of a shared public space and asset,” says Mak. “With ever shrinking local council budgets to maintain green spaces, the community taking responsibility and coming together is something that is not only a necessity, but a ideal way for locals to meet and work for a greater good.” IEL believes that these gardens are a perfect example of community empowerment in action, but despite there being a consensus that growing spaces are a quick and easy way to enhance the wellbeing of an area, it is difficult to attract private finance. Edible Avenue is an exception.

So why is it so hard to attract private investment into green spaces within the urban public realm? “Consider the controversial Garden Bridge,” said Mak. “Its’ costs are huge at an estimated £175m, and its accessibility is already being called into question, yet public and private money has been found. Doing sums on the back of an envelope, its current budget roughly equates to thirty-three new pocket parks per borough. There are thirty-three boroughs…

Those pocket parks could make a massive difference to how London looks and feels, not to mention having a far greater impact on London’s air quality than a bridge with planting. Growing spaces must be valued and kept safe guarded. Without them, city life would be far less bearable.”

On Blue Plates

Incredible Edible Lambeth is supporting a new campaign called On Blue Plates (@onblueplates on Twitter). It is looking for 50 restaurants, pubs or cafes to donate 1 meal a year (£140) to the members of the Healthy Living Club at Lingham Court – Lambeth’s very own dementia charity. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is the first restaurant to donate. We will report on other supporters next month. The project’s name comes from the fact that those with dementia benefit from food served on brightly coloured plates because they help make the food more visible and without such visual prompts, those with dementia may struggle to eat and go on to suffer from malnutrition.

A grant from Brixton Pound is helping Healthy Living Club train volunteers so that they can learn how to approach businesses.

 

Save the bees – and the frogs, beetles, butterflies and bats

by Susan Sheehan, Director Incredible Edible Lambeth

Incredible Edible Lambeth social media has been buzzing has been this year as community gardeners all over the borough have been shocked at the ‘eradication’ of Cowley Food Farm. Much to the horror of community gardeners the site of the farm, more than 5 years in existence, has been cleared by contractors and now faces permanent eradication, apparently due to ‘lack of interest’

Marry Brown, explained that she received a note from housing managers that contractors would be tidying up the site, but she thought that this was part of a plan that the gardeners had been working with the community gardener at Myatts Field Park. She managed to get in with a day’s notice and recover some treasured plants and equipment, but the tidy up went much further than expected. “I thought they were cutting grass around the edges, but the whole garden was flattened. Plants and equipment such as watering cans was just thrown away.”

Merry admits that some of of the site had been untended for a while, mainly because some growers had been ill, but plans were being made to reallocate and recover those sites.

I have personally been involved with the garden at ad hoc intervals since it began. I have donated time and equipment, and would be very sad to see the garden disappear completely after all this time. I have posted a note on the Cowley Food Farm facebook page in support of the project.

Of particular concern to Ann Bodkin, chair of Incredible Edible Lambeth (IEL), is the complete lack of consideration for biodiversity on the site. “We have seen this before. It is so sad that contractors and managers do not appreciate the value of a diverse range of plants and that they bring the bees and create homes for insects and butterflies. This site even had frogs.”

Ann would like to see contractors follow a biodiversity code. Events at Cowley follow shortly after contractors in Windmill Gardens in Brixton cut back a hedgerow so hard that they completely killed fruit bushes and vines that had been planted using hard-won IEL funds. “Contractors should know the difference between a bramble and a fruit bush, but they don’t.”

Save the bee campaigns are very high profile at the moment and widely supported. Yet the best thing we can do to save the bees is encourage planting of plants and flowers for the bees to feed on. Pristine, grassed areas that are easy for contractors to maintain, are lifeless, and unwelcoming. If we are to create a healthy environment in Lambeth, we have to learn to value biodiversity.

Cowley Food Farm would like you to comment on their facebook page before the 14th March when the Board of Cowley TMO will meet sanction the eradication of Cowley Food Farm project.

Lambeth Larder

The Lambeth Larder is a website and print booklet full of information on the food resources available in the local area to help people make ends meet. It contains an up to date list of locations and hours of food banks, resources for saving money and budgeting, food growing and more. http://www.lambethlarder.org/

Rise in Food Poverty in Lambeth

By Susan Sheehan, Director Incredible Edible Lambeth

Incredible Edible Lambeth is one of the core partners of the Lambeth Food Partnership (LFP), along with Lambeth Council and Lambeth Public Health. On Tuesday 8 th December LFP held a panel discussion on food poverty at Pop Brixton, as part of its annual general meeting. Panel speakers were Hannah Laurison, from Sustain, a national food campaign organisation, John Taylor from Brixton food bank, and Kemi Akinola from Brixton People’s Kitchen. All gave their perspectives on food poverty in Lambeth.

All agreed that food poverty is a highly complex area, and that the biggest single cause of food poverty is benefit sanctions and delays. Hannah has been comparing London boroughs and has found that Lambeth Council is not doing badly in terms of the interventions it is pursuing such as giving out Healthy Start vouchers and Alexandra Rose vouchers to families with very young children. She also praised the exemplary work of the council’s jobs and growth team on financial resilience and Lambeth’s support for the London Living Wage. However one in five residents in Lambeth are currently employed in jobs that pay below the London Living wage and that is strongly linked to food poverty – so much more needs to be done. Hannah raised concern that while Lambeth still does offer meals on wheels these are being cut across the country and we need to keep an eye on what can be done to fill any gaps that might emerge in the service.

Jon Taylor thanked the audience for the support the community gives to the Brixton food bank, both in terms of collecting food and volunteering, and in terms of social media support. He noted that Lambeth feeds more people through food banks than any other borough, with single adults and single parent families making up the majority of people who need help. Only a few people over age 65 attend and there is concern that this is a neglected group. Jon does see a lot of people just below retirement age who have lost hope and cannot find work.

Jon told a couple of shocking stories. He talked about a woman (S) whose benefits were sanctioned for 3 months twice, because she failed to attend a job club. Her daughter was in hospital with bipolar and S therefore needed to take care of her grandchild. S was told to find a babysitter but this was an emergency situation and she did not have easy access to anyone she trusted. For a total of six months S was dependent on friends and family for the survival of herself and her grandchild.

Next year Brixton food bank is opening a new debt centre with Christians against Poverty. There was a call for bags – as they relied on free supermarket bags before they would now like any strong cloth bags. Also although food banks tend to rely on non-perishable food if anyone can get fresh fruit and veg to the distribution centres on the day of distribution they would love to be able to give it out. Kemi often collects surplus food from local shops and offered to help make a connection with food banks, although the challenge is getting the surplus food to the places it is needed, and Kemi herself spends a lot of time picking up food on her trailer bike.

Brixton People’s Kitchen cooks surplus food and teaches people to cook at the same time. She is concerned that another aspect of food poverty is nutritionally poor food and that when people are hungry it is too easy to buy chips, so she is passionate about encouraging people to experiment with vegetables. All the food cooked is vegetarian.

So what’s the single biggest cause and the one big solution?, asked a questioner. It’s not that easy but “in the US inequality is accepted and food banks are institutionalised – the rise in food poverty should be a big wake up call in the UK and benefit delays and sanctions, and low wages should be addressed”, said Hannah Laurison. Jon agreed and sees a strong link with the benefit system and the unacceptable amount of surplus food that is wasted, but he can only deal with individuals. Kemi would add supermarkets and their refusal to sell ‘wonky veg’ into the mix and ask them to be part of the solution.

To find out more about Lambeth Food Partnership please visit www.lambethfood.org. Sign up to receive updates and contribute to campaigns and activities. Six new directors were elected at the AGM, and they are:

 Clara Widdison (Lambeth Community Shop)

 Kemi Akinola (Brixton People’s Kitchen)

 Andrea Brown (It’s your Local Market)

 Sally Hargreaves (Dietician NHS)

 Charlotte O’Connor (Loughborough Farm)

 Ainslie Beattie (Lambeth Food Partnership coordinator)

Congratulations on their election.

Love Your Roots

By Susan Sheehan, Director Incredible Edible Lambeth

 

Since early 2015 Incredible Edible Lambeth has been running a small grants scheme for community food projects called Love Your Roots. The grant is usually used for equipment such as compost bins, planters, raised beds, trees etc. However the projects themselves vary hugely. One very inspiring project is taking place in the area of Loughborough Road, Akerman Road and Evandale Road (near the Fiveways Junction), called L.E.A.F. gardeners. There residents have been getting together to improve the look and feel of their streets, and transforming front gardens into productive food growing spaces. “We originally came together as a community because of the terrible traffic situation at the north end of Loughborough Road,” said co-project organiser and local resident Dawn Kalu. One of the first things she did with L.E.A.F. TRA chair, and Dawn’s friend and neighbour, Tracey Gordon, was a street clean-up day with the help of Lambeth’s Freshview programme. But Dawn already had a connection with Myatts Fields greenhouse and does help with food growing there and thought that would be good way of sustaining the energy from the clean-up day. Having cleared the gardens so they now attract less rubbish, with the help of the greenhouse, residents planted many types of summer and winter veg: calalloo, kale, cabbage, peas, potatoes, sweet corn, leeks, beetroot, watercress, pumpkin, spinach, broad beans, onions, spring onions, thyme, basil, mint, marjoram, coriander, lemon grass, parsley and dill.

Residents cleared and planted the garden of an elderly resident who was recently bereaved, as well as their own gardens and they regularly help each other. “Planted gardens raise questions and inspire. People have reminisced about the past, like their aunty’s garden and about plants and veg grown in their countries of origin. After a conversation I have given passers-by plants that I have grown in the greenhouse or that I have surplus of in the garden”, said Dawn. “As neighbours on the road(s) we swap watercress for tomatoes, raspberry canes for chard etc.”

A street party brought residents out on the street. “It was the first year ever in my 20 years living here that the pears on the ancient pear tree were made into cakes and jam. We used as much of the local produce as we could on our Street Party day”.

But the project did not stop there. As residents talked and reminisced they unlocked some amazing creativity and held an art exhibition, showcasing the work of 16 residents, in the Loughborough Hotel Gallery. Some of the art is pictured below. One artist said: “Thanks for the opportunity. I’ve never exhibited my art before”. Mary, a local resident said “Wonderful – makes me proud to live here”. Tracey also showed some historic pictures of the road, and gave a very well attended talk on some of the families who have lived here at the beginning of the century. There is an idea of collecting peoples stories as some elderly people have lived here for over 40 years.

The latest round of the Love Your Roots grant has just opened. In particular there is now a new category for a larger grant that is targeting innovation. Incredible Edible Lambeth recognises that food growing is nearly always about more than gardening – and at the very least builds community. Can we encourage more links with art and heritage, campaigning, reducing social isolation for example?