Covid-19 and our gardening - please read

WeGrowFor is looking for volunteers to get Lambeth growing even more food!

mother and child watering veg

A new social enterprise is developing a growing pilot in Lambeth that has been inspired by Covid.  The founders, Streatham based Stephen Vasconcellos and Aussie Lucan Creamer, were concerned by the disruption to supply chains that resulted in supermarket shelves  being blitzed.  They worried that the UK was only 50% food secure and had concerns about how our cities could feed themselves during another pandemic or a future climate shock.  
 The initiative is  WeGrowFor.com and it is partnering with Incredible Edible Lambeth to get Lambeth growing even more food. 
The simple idea is to create an Airbnb for unused garden spaces to get people growing. This meets an important need because:

  • There are 206,000 allotments in the UK (woefully oversubscribed) with 6m people waiting for an allotment – some lists closed and others have a 25-40 years wait
  • 7.4m gardens in the UK (1 in 4) are unloved and often overgrown and an embarrassment to their owners
  • Large numbers of front gardens in cities are paved, impacting biodiversity
  • Members of ethnic communities are up to four times less likely to have access to a garden than caucasians
  • Covid times have seen a ten fold spike in growing
  • In London, more than 2.3 million Londoners live below the poverty line and 33% of adults have skipped meals to save money so that their children can eat.

The WeGrowFor team is currently in discussions with Hubbub who had partnered with the GLA, Homebase, and Ikea (amongst other partners) to deliver 10,000 grow kits across London last year under the auspices of a campaign called “Give it a Grow”. Hubbub is also keen to be part of this pilot. Clearly, the need is greater than ever. 
The WeGrowFor model is to encourage growers to adopt square foot gardening. Square foot gardening is an engineered gardening process using raised beds that are divided up into square feet sections, and organised with clear instructions about the numbers of veggies that can be planted in each section. The process is  simple and no dig – and involves  2% of the effort of normal gardening and results in 5 times the produce. It’s highly efficient and easy to manage. The goal is to bring in external partners to help with some of the supplies and resources – as Hubbub did with its successful campaign last year. 


The team envisages a community of thousands of budding gardeners (“growfors”) growing their own vegetables across Lambeth, utilising unused and unloved spaces, and growing to tackle food poverty,  to increase health and wellbeing and reduce food miles. 
WeGrowFor is also looking for Gardeners and for Landowners or people with unloved spaces


WeGrowFor is working with a number of volunteers who will map out Lambeth’s growing potential and build out a database of unused garden space (front and back and with access), which could be an incredible resource for growing. 

You can reach Stephen on stephen@wegrowfor.com.

So many people have done amazing things over the past few months and we thought we’d bring some of them together to talk about their experiences. We know that the situation in Lambeth has been particularly challenging, as thousands of people find themselves without support and without recourse to public funds, without sufficient food for their families.

But what has it felt like to be witnessing this huge increase in demand for basic essentials? We have asked several people to tell us about their challenges and how they have met the need.

Watch the zoom event here or listen here or read the (rough) transcript below with start time for each speaker

Tracey Ford, JAGS Foundation  52secs Sunday Best programme – those who’ve lost out because they relied on their grandma, sister or aunt for their sunday dinner. Families needing to cook every day – no school meals. SB is ‘cook caribbean’ – virtual cooking show 1-2pm every Sunday showing how to cook traditional rice and chicken. Provision of Sunday Best meal has grown from the first Sunday of 43 meals, to 228 cooked dinners for families, single homeless people living in hostels, less abled people in the community. Organisations are contacting every week with details on families with no recourse to public funds. Hearty, healthy, nutritious hot sunday meal. Numbers still increasing. Buying the food, some donations.

Jojo Sureh, Cook to Care 5.30mins Pre Covid – preventative rehabilitation work with ex young offenders. In 10th week of Cook to Care – piloting rehab programme with HMP Wandsworth when lockdown announced. Programme suspended, so started doing online workshops for young offenders about to leave prison. Basic training – from washing veg to cooking. Left me with 80 meals in my freezer – started providing to locals. Realised that the programme was going to be suspended but also realised that there was a great need in Streatham. First to fourth week 40 – 80 – 150 – 500 meals, now 180-250 meals per day leaving flat. Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Wandsworth.  Self funded, then Go Fund Me. Once referred, can provide a service throughout to other end, evolved from just food to other services with other charities. Now moved into Marcus Lipton Centre, much easier to co-ordinate volunteers. Hard to access funds initially, but now established, getting external support. People referred, those who cannot access public services from local authority. 15 volunteers on rotation, 5 a day – 2 people cooking, 3 more organising packaging, labelling etc.

Elizabeth Maytum, Norwood and Brixton Food Bank 12.30mins Normally 3 distribution points in Norwood, Brixton and Streatham. Within a day of announcement of lockdown, couldn’t do face to face, moved to warehouse in Streatham. Electronic referrals from partners, pick, pack and deliver. Fed in excess of 8,500 people from end of March to now. 8-10tonnes of food given away each week. Parcels are all individual to need of family. Signposting service too – no recourse to public funds mums, packs for kids etc. Trying to recreate remotely what we would normally do face to face. Barkham Avenue, Streatham – British Gas, loads of vehicles, huge project. Would love not to be there, grateful to campaigns like footballer Rashford getting free school meals. Helpers mostly volunteers, a few paid staff.

Candice James, Loughborough Community Centre at Max Roach 17mins Team of six, deliver a range of children and family services. Lockdown was an anxious time for the parents, the team came together to think about how to keep in touch. Contact calls were not enough, as safeguarding issues were rising. April should have been Holiday Play Project, so devised ‘Happy Lunch’, an emergency response project and adaptation of the Holiday Play Project – a free lunch three times a week with play resources. What hadn’t expected was that they would be only engagement with their families – no contact from schools or other children’s centres. Realised that the children loved the contact time, know that home is not a safe place for many of their families. Engaged 71 families and reaching 140 children delivered 4179 lunches, secured funding for next five weeks until adapt into a summer project. Happy Lunch will continue through the whole summer period. Survey – 75% parents reported that they had less money, 55% had less food. Happy Lunch is so much more than a meal. Moved fast, had no funding initially, but pumped everything into this project – proud of workers and their quick response.

Sarah Coyte: Community Engagement Team at Lambeth Council 25mins Quick response by Council – crisis helpline set up on 25th March, food hub set up 27th March at Brixton Rec, not long after that, Black Prince Trust hub set up. 8,000 calls, distributed through hubs (eg children’s centres) 18,500 food packages. Call volume on helpline is decreasing, so demand from individuals is reducing, but not the case through the hubs – ‘bulk requests’. Black Prince Trust now not operational, Brixton Rec still operating. Conversation needed now: how and when we transition from providing food packages to working more supportively to enable voluntary and community sector to do what they do best, with Council’s support. Conversations looking to have with partners to help shape this.

Victoria Sherwin: Myatt’s Fields Project 30mins When lockdown started, stopped volunteering and started growing veg from seed. Distributed seedlings to 200 households. Backyard farming now being developed in unused spaces – using bigger spaces to grow on food for neighbourhoods.

Janie Bickersteth: Incredible Edible Lambeth 32mins Funding from London Community Response Fund enabled IEL to establish a project to help people grow food from home. Now have 200 new growers in the borough, each one is encouraged to hand on seedlings to ten households or people who would value some extra food. Also working with Capital Growth to get more people to grow surplus in their community gardens. 

Virginia Nimarkoh, Lambeth Larder Community Food Resource 34mins Lambeth Larder came out of a pilot action research project Lambeth Food Insecurity project. Connect people to emergency food and other support. Do that by sharing free resources – website and paper directory distributed through networks – food banks, Gp surgeries, children’s centres. During Covid19, none of this distribution possible, so needed to go online, but many of the people who need the resources wouldn’t necessarily have access to digital platforms. Connect different sectors and networks – cross sector response to food poverty – not just food issue, issue of economic deprivation, sectors not talking to each other exacerbates the problem. Mapping new providers, looking at how the sector has changed during Covid19?  Mapping for Change – producing an online map of resources under Covid that are still available for people – including food aid services, community kitchens, connecting groups. Working to strengthen the sector – no volunteer centre in Lambeth, so no immediate place to be connected. This has been a stumbling block during this crisis. As a voluntary sector, we’re all operating separately, need an advocate for us all. Call out to anyone wanting their service listed through the website, the leaflet or the new map.

Q&A

Where did you find funding?

Jojo – self funding and Go Fund Me, monetary donations from public, struggled to access funding through local authority. Long term contract with a church to supply perishable goods.

Tracey – crowdfunded £6000 in 6 weeks. Also funding from Lambeth, LCRF. Constantly looking for funding. More info from Tracey: JAGS Foundation running for 10 years and has received a fair amount of funding, but always fund-raising. Virginia helped find kitchens, 2 community chefs.

Elizabeth – gets food donated from FairShare, City Harvest and Local Greens and part of neighbourly scheme, so can pick up from supermarkets when there is excess food.

What challenges do people see coming and what support do you think people need?

Jojo – idea that Covid is going to end and with that, our services will no longer be needed. This makes me worried that the support I am getting will not be lasting – perception that this is only Covid response work – I had always planned this kind of work. People who could help me long term seem to think that I should only be strategizing through Covid. Now looking at other paths for support as the demand is increasing. Service will continue whilst the need continues. Funding of resources and spaces precarious.

Tracey – a lot of people go unnoticed, they are not being picked up or looked after. This has come about through Covid, but we are not talking about people accessing healthy good food. Lambeth as a borough needs to recognise that not everyone is going to talk about food, not everyone is going to talk about children eating out of the chicken shop, how do we know that children are accessing good food at home? Must be mindful that these are going to be the same problems after Covid.

Tori – Tracey has summed up what we need to be doing – collaboration.

Janie – dealing with escalating numbers, it’s not going away, collectively we need to get this message out, share information. We hope to work collaboratively to address these issues of (food) poverty across the borough.

End of session

Partnership with Capital Growth

Photo by Zoe Warde Aldam

We are working with this London-wide organisation, seeking community gardens to grow surplus veg to share with people in your neighbourhood who would really benefit from some extra food this year.

As with our Growing for our Communities project, many of us have recognised there is a pressing need for more locally grown nutritious food this year and Capital Growth are also trying to help that happen.

Perhaps you have a spare plot of land which you could put to good use for the next three months? If you are growing in a communal space or with a group of people, Capital Growth can provide resources (compost, seedlings, tools) and some 1-2-1 advice and training, if you can commit to grow surplus veg.

IEL is acting as a ‘local lead’; our job will be to link up your produce with the people who would like to benefit from some fresh veg.

Get in touch TODAY if you’re interested in being involved. The first round of gardens need to have expressed an interest by Wednesday 10th June, so let us know as soon as possible. incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

Growing for our communities – March 2020

tiny veg seedlings

Many people have asked how they might be able to support their communities in these uncertain times; we came up with a plan…

We thought we would encourage more people to grow veg. So we advertised the idea that we could supply a selection of seeds, compost, seed trays and pots; we had a flood of interest.

We undertook a risk assessment, minimised contact between people assembling and delivering the boxes, wore PPE at all times and, importantly, got the green light from Lambeth Council. We set up a Crowdfund to help us deliver the pilot and are very grateful to Engie , to the London Freedom Seed Bank (who donated seeds) and the amazing Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds of Italy (watch him on youtube) for generous financial and material support and we couldn’t have done any of this without the support of Myatt’s Fields Park, providing us with a depot for distribution and many materials too.

Supporting local food and drinks businesses

As we emerge from lockdown, now is the time to support our local retailers. By shopping local, more money stays in the local community; for every pound spent, 63pence stays local, as opposed to 40pence staying in the local economy if we shop in a supermarket. There are probably shorter supply chains too, as local food businesses often purchase locally.

One way to ‘shop local’ is to support your local market – as they re-open, now more than ever, they need our support. Go to Love Your Local Market 2020 (Twitter: @loveurlocalmkt) to find out more.

Two of our food and drinks businesses have been in touch, to report on their experiences of the past few months and how they have adapted their businesses.

Local Greens has ridden a wave of highs and lows during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have remained open and working, supplying South Londoners with fresh fruit and veg, throughout the crisis. March brought a surge of customers our way, so much so that we had to redraw our operational plans and minimise strain on our suppliers by importing produce from the EU. That was unprecedented for us, but our small, UK-based suppliers could not keep up, given the time of year and the demand.

We lost several staff members to quarantine and had to suspend volunteering for everyone’s safety. Many of our collection points are local pubs or cafes and several are unfortunately closed at the moment. After consolidating our collection network, we also crafted a social-distanced packing system that we’re finding may be more efficient for the long term.

What has been the most uplifting part of this entire experience is our customers’ response. From the outset, their overwhelming question was, “How can we help?” We set up a group for customers to assist others who were isolating or ill; they’ve left lovely hand drawn messages on our collection sheets, sent donations for the food bank and we’ve gotten to meet so many of them at the manned collection points. Our customer numbers have leveled off from March’s surge, and we invite all new signs up to the scheme. We will be thrilled when a semblance of normalcy returns and we can welcome back our collection partners, volunteers and all of our wonderful customers in person.

and Wolfe’s Drinks sent us this report:

“Like all small businesses who are struggling at the moment I really appreciate it when people choose to spend their money with me, buying local and making it possible – hopefully – to survive. My Shrubs are all handmade by me in London using only fresh fruit, botanicals and vinegars making them lovely to drink, clean and complex. 
Currently you can buy Wolfe’s Drinks online direct from me on Big Barn  – I’ve made a special offer for you, if people add ‘Shop Local’ at the checkout it will give them a 20% discount. Anyone can arrange to collect from me at home, so no delivery charge if they do that.
I’m also selling online with Oval Farmer’s Market –  to collect from Montgomery Hall, SE11 5SW on a Saturday. They are also now running a small market each week that people locally might like to support for their weekend shop. It’s open 10 – 3pm and is just across from The Oval. Guzzl in Brixton is selling a full range, they’re open Friday and Saturday and also have a local free delivery for online orders.”

Virtual garden tours

Ever wondered what other community gardens look like? Now’s your chance to take a look, from the comfort of your own home!

Streatham Common Community Garden has sent us a video tour around their amazing space, which you can watch here.

We visited Rosendale Gardens Orchard and Community Kitchen Garden – you can watch the IEL members’ zoom here – within it is a short video around the space (at 8.58mins). We will separate out that video soon.

Our next tour will be to Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses – on Tuesday 30 June, 6.30pm. Click this link to find out how to join.

If you’d like to show people around your plot, we’d love you to take part in this – either send us a video or we can arrange a zoom, get in touch incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

Guidelines for visiting community gardens, post lockdown.

Streatham Common Community Garden

We know how important it is to get into our gardens and now that we are emerging from lockdown, we have revised our guidelines to minimise risk of spreading the disease.

  • Do not visit your community garden or allotment if you or any member of your family are self-isolating or feel unwell.
  • Anyone considered medically vulnerable/subject to government shielding advice should not visit the growing space.
  • Avoid public transport to visit your garden; instead walk, run, cycle or drive to the allotment, either on your own or with one other member of your household.
  • Do not allow your garden to be open to the public.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands after using the allotment gate. It would be helpful to others if you wiped down the gate, as well, if you can.
  • Don’t wash your hands in the communal water troughs.
  • It may be necessary to establish a rota for usage if plots are close together; garden leaders should publicise maximum number of visitors and display on an external board.
  • Only work on your plot with your household. If you share the plot with someone from a different household then you must observe safe social distancing rules. Ideally, work out a timetable so you can visit the plot separately.
  • Maintain safe social distancing protocols at all times.
  • Don’t make anyone a cup of tea and keep all communal amenities closed.
  • Don’t share tools.
  • Don’t visit the allotment shop.
  • Ensure your children keep to your plot and avoid playing in communal areas.
  • If you take your dog with you, ensure it is kept on a lead, within the bounds of your own plot. If it wanders off and you need to retrieve it from communal areas this could place you and others at risk.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly before and after eating food, and when you get home.

We will keep this updated as we hear more from the Government. In the meantime, you can read up-to-date news on Covid-19 here

If you would like to find out more about what other members are doing, or need some practical advice, please do get in touch. incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

Gardening is Good

An odyssey around east London, showing how gardening can fix almost everything, from climate change to loneliness. In addition, you might like to read an article about gardening and mental health here.

Produced, directed and edited by Dorothy Leiper, an IEL member.

Director of photography: Clive Gill

presenter: Geoffrey Juden

sound design: Marie Tueje

music: Shane O’Neill

Microbiome rewilding: biodiverse urban green spaces strengthen human immune systems (by University of Adelaide)

credit: Jacob Mills

A research team led by the University of Adelaide has found that revegetation of green spaces within cities can improve soil microbiota diversity towards a more natural, biodiverse state, which has been linked to human health benefits.

In the study, published in the journal Restoration Ecology, researchers compared the composition of a variety of urban green space vegetation types of varying levels of vegetation diversity, including lawns, vacant lots, parklands, revegetated woodlands and remnant woodlands within the City of Playford Council area in South Australia.

The purpose of the research was to understand whether it is possible to restore the microbiome of urban green spaces, a process known as microbiome rewilding. It is believed this process could expose us to a greater variety and number of microbiota (organisms living within a specific environment) and provide a form of immune system training and regulation.

Lead author of the journal paper, PhD student Jacob Mills from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and Environment Institute, says historically humans lived in more rural and wild landscapes, and children spent more of their childhood outdoors, allowing exposure to more microbes.

“Urbanisation has radically changed our childhoods. More time spent indoors, poor quality diets and less exposure to wild environments has led to significant increases in non-communicable diseases such as poorer respiratory health,” says Jacob.

children looking into tree canopy
Children exploring woodland at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses

“Exposure to biodiverse natural environments carries ecological benefits—green spaces with higher eco-system function give children better exposure to pick things up from soil, for example, there are microbial compounds in soil that reduce stress and anxiety.

“Put simply, the more diversity in microbiota that children are exposed to, the healthier they will grow up,” he said.

The research found that the revegetated and remnant woodlands examined comprised more native plant species than other green spaces such as lawns and vacant lots, and had greater diversity of microbiota.

Furthermore the soil microbiotas in revegetated urban green spaces were similar to those found in remnant woodlands, and differed greatly from lawns and vacant lots, which had lower microbiota diversity.

“This indicates that the revegetated woodlands soil microbiome had somewhat recovered to its previous more natural biodiverse state,” says Jacob.

“Plant species richness, soil pH and electrical conductivity were the main variables for microbial communities in our study, the more diverse the soil biodiversity the better the eco-system function. Urban spaces low in microbial diversity tend to be more conducive to pathogens and pests, also known as microbial ‘weeds.'”

“Increasing plant species diversity is important for the structure of microbial communities and increases eco-system function,” he says.

Jacob says the findings of the study has implications for urban design, landscape architecture and councils.

“Our study provides a footing for urban planners and designers to place the environmental microbiome and access to diverse green spaces in their design principles when developing and rejuvenating urban areas.

“Greater biodiversity comes with the potential to reduce non-communicable disease rates through improved training of our immune systems to fight illness and disease.

“It could be implemented as a potential preventative health measure, particularly beneficial for lower socio-economic areas and could lessen the burden on our health systems.”

The study is believed to provide the first evidence that revegetation can improve urban soil microbiota diversity towards a more natural, biodiverse state by creating more wild habitat conditions. This evidence supports initiating further studies within the growing field of microbiome rewilding.

“We hope that this work will inspire further research to understand and measure the impact of microbiome rewilding on human health,” Jacob says.

Building stronger communities – growing for our neighbours, part 2

Beautiful vertical seedling garden, sent from Claudia

Sadly we are reaching the end of the time we can distribute late summer veg seed around the borough, but we want to support everyone who is now growing, so the rest of this page gives an idea of the breadth of ways to re-distribute seedlings. Please get in touch if you have other ways of doing it: incrediblelambeth@gmail.com.

If you have links with a school, find out all students registered for free school meals and share a message with the school that they can pass on to those families (leave veg at the school gate)

Find your nearest mutual aid group on WhatsApp and send a message there (if you don’t have access to this, we can help)

Find your nearest faith group – churches and mosques are a great network to tap into

Get in touch with your nearest childrens’ centre – they may not be open, but they will definitely be in contact with the more vulnerable families

You may have a local community garden or allotment that would welcome some summer seedlings.

Perhaps you have a neighbour who is shielding – would they like a couple of plants?

Leave seedlings on your doorstep and invite neighbours to take a pot – maybe say something about how they reach people who wouldn’t normally grow food? There’s a downloadable print out for you here. Invite them to get in touch with us for support through email incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

If you live on an estate, talk with the TRA and see if they can help with distribution. Urban Growth is working on several estates across the borough and will be helping us with this.

Perhaps your local GP surgery or pharmacy knows of vulnerable people who could do with some extra food.

Once you have some plants to give away, download and print out the message below, which you can display along with your seedlings. If you are able, try to keep a count of what you handed on and to how many people.

And if you’d still like to grow more late summer and autumn veg from seeds, please fill in this form. Remember – you need to live or work in Lambeth.

We'll use your email address to contact you if we need to resolve a problem with delivering your kit.
I understand I will be growing for myself, my family and for my community (required)
Are you a member of Incredible Edible Lambeth? (required)

If you are not already a member of Incredible Edible Lambeth please sign up to get your growing kit, it's FREE to join.

You can sign up as an individual, or as a group if you represent a school or community growing project.

(Links will open in a new tab so you can finish your application)

If you have any questions, or want to contact us for any other reason, email us at incrediblelambeth@gmail.com