Growing Connections is a project of Sustain, funded by the Centre for Ageing Better and DCMS through the age-friendly and inclusive volunteering programme. The project was delivered by our partner, Capital Growth, Sustain’s network of community food gardens across London. It was designed to facilitate, collate and share best practice across the network and beyond.
Capital Growth connected gardens, buddied local projects together and recruited a team of community leaders to form a Community Garden Group. The group met through 2019 to explore positive and negative volunteering experiences, any barriers to people getting involved and the principles of inclusive volunteering. The end result is a guide containing the principles of age-friendly and inclusive volunteering, tips for best practice and provides a tool to self-review community food projects’ inclusivity. To find out more or download the guide visit: www.capitalgrowth.org/growingconnections
How do you describe your project? Thorlands Gardens is a food growing club based on an east Lambeth housing estate, in Camberwell, SE5. The estate was mainly built in the 1950’s, and is strangely hammer shaped. Thorlands Gardens is named such for good reason. Firstly, It just so happens that Thor was the God of Agriculture. Someone, unbeknown to us, wanted to leave a legacy in the naming of the estate, with a nod to the Scandinavian connection with Queen Anne’s husband the Duke of Denmark. Indeed the estate sits on Denmark Road, not far from Denmark Hill, where the monarch and her husband apparently lived.
Secondly, our tagline, ‘The first Camberwell market garden in over fifty years,’ was dreamed up, in the context of the whole area previously being farmland, mainly market gardens, orchards, pasture and meadow for sheep. Some of these activities continued up until well into the 1950’s. One interesting fact cited in the archives was that the English herb yarrow was collected in the fields of Camberwell and sold in London. Apparently, yarrow was used for cleaning the typhoid-ridden water by brewing with barley into weak ‘Flowers’ ale! Lastly, but by no means least, we all think the name and tagline just has a happy ring to it! Wow, that’s such an interesting snippet of history – thank you Simon.
Can you tell us why you set the project up? The project was set up by Thorlands TMO Committee with the help of a local food grower and garden designer. There was a shared vision to move forward with a zero miles food project on unused and unloved brownfield spaces. There was an understanding that residents of all ages could volunteer simply for the value that experience gives to individual wellbeing. There is also the added bonus of sharing the fruits of the labour, which in this case is healthy produce, such as vegetables, salads, herbs, and edible flowers.
And what is the main reason for wanting to join IEL?
Thorlands Gardens is a new project with the need to promote volunteering, and horticultural experiential learning. Being on the IEL Map will help, to recruit more residents and locals, when safe to do so. Bringing people together so we can grow the capacity of the production for locals by locals, is a primary goal. The IEL Map will also be an invaluable platform to promote the benefits to individual health, a community as a whole, as well as the project’s long term mission to be a part of a new food growing culture and circular economy. Thorlands Gardens will provide some much needed work in the primary sector, right here in Camberwell.
That’s really exciting – to provide employment, we too want to get more people working in this sector!
– and what are the challenges you face in the short, medium and long-term? Well, as the garden is now starting to take shape in one of the main growing areas we see the possibility of a glut of food in the very near future. However with the current restrictions on working we have simply the challenge to keep up the sowing, potting on and watering. So we would like to work with IEL to promote an ‘Open Market Day’ which will promote future events on site. We think that is a great way to drive up the interest, the voluntary hours, and also bring a regular customer base.
In the mid term we have the challenge of a dichotomy, one of creating some meaningful local work, while shoppers are still having to keep a healthy distance. The exciting news is that Thorlands is situated in Camberwell in the middle of three towns with five farmers markets. We have already been offered a place at one of those, when the moment is right to open up again. That will involve training up a volunteer as an intern into work. We will announce which market when the moment is right.
Another long term challenge or a golden opportunity, depending on how you frame it, is the mission of providing employment. The role of a ‘Market Gardener’ which demands a ‘soil to stall’ regime, may be for some very challenging. However, for the right person, an exciting challenge. To keep the learning process an enjoyable one, the role will be mentored and skilled along the way, experientially. They will learn all about planning, sowing, growing, harvesting, running a stall, selling the produce and promoting the project. As well as learning the ways of plant care and most importantly people care in this pandemic era, the worker will also learn and take part in the social media journey including photography, video making & vlogging. This will expose the very real daily goals or challenges of such a lifestyle. There is a further, specific long-term challenge here, associated with the role of ‘Market Gardener.’ This will be to recruit, train and retain the right people. I think perhaps this is a ‘hearts and minds’ challenge. Persuading unemployed skill-full people, that may have a totally irrelevant qualification, that local urban food growing is a meaningful and exciting business, and a joyful job worth having. In answer to the main question, we think that these aims make Thorlands Gardens a most unique project in the making.
That’s an amazing and very exciting vision Simon! Thanks for sharing it with us – how should anyone interested in your project get in touch with you?
Contact Simon on this email, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 hereor 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.
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.
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. email@example.com
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 ofFranchi 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.
That was Phase 1. We then got funding from the London Community Response Fund to deliver a second phase through the summer – more seed, compost and trays and support for growing in the shape of zoom calls and videos from the amazing Fabrice at Myatt’s Fields Park.
The upshot was around 170 new growers, several new community gardens and a general buzz around growing food all over London – on balconies, in back yards, and in community gardens.
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.
“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.”