Just FACT is supporting community-led solutions for a sustainable and socially just urban food system.
ONE YEAR ON!
As we launch into the second year of Just FACT, we wanted to share some learnings from our first year of getting up and running across Tower Hamlets. We managed to squeeze in one last event in 2021, bringing together forty people from across the Just FACT programme, to celebrate a year of progress and lessons. Below are five principles which stood out as important lessons we can all learn from, as we look forward to 2022.
1. SUCCESS IS NOT LINEAR, SO EMBRACE THE MESS
Be Green is a programme where young people can learn more about climate change, take action, and become climate leaders in their community. In the first year of the programme one thing felt very clear – success is not linear! There were lots of hurdles, from convening a group during Covid-19, to knuckling down on a clear campaign. What felt clear to the Be Green team is that what was needed was to embrace the mess.
Another lesson that went alongside this was that too much freedom is unhelpful, or put differently, sometimes more parameters are useful! Their group of young people benefited from the flexibility of being able to learn about and choose from the many issues climate change presents locally, but this also hampered them! Structured freedom, was something the team learned as a big takeaway, how can more direction and parameters strengthen the project, and create more freedom for course participants?
2. BE PREPARED TO THROW AWAY THE ROAD MAP
Parkview and Cranbrook Climate Taskforce (PACCT) is empowering residents of Parkview and Cranbrook Estates to act together to reduce their carbon footprints, supporting and facilitating them to create and run their own long-term projects, providing local solutions to environmental issues. As soon as the project was up and running it hit unforeseen obstacles, namely that only the usual suspects were engaging with it and it wasn’t representative.
Using their experience in community organising they decided to face the critical questions head on and be prepared to throw away the road map they had been developing for weeks, in preparation for the project. Questions like; how can those in the community who have more power and privilege understand the impact of this reality? How are we not thinking carefully about equity and inclusion in our project delivery? Why are we not representative? Importantly, the lesson was to embrace going back to the drawing board and doing research into why engagement is not as expected, speaking to people, and building a new road map.
3. BUILD BRIDGES
Cranbrook Community Food Garden is a community garden nestled in the heart of the Cranbrook estate which is drawing on the wisdom and expertise of the garden’s loyal members to help invigorate and modernise Cranbrook Community Food Garden, making it even more accessible and connected to the community.
One of the big takeaways for the project coordinators is that sometimes you need to think outside the garden walls! How could the garden build a bridge to the rest of the estate? A project which emerged as an answer to this question is to install a fruit orchard, most likely on the grass verge directly opposite the garden. This orchard will be accessible to residents of the estate who will be invited to pick the fruit, there is even plans for the orchard to provide benches and more recreational space for the wider community.
The orchard is a bridge, and our community projects always need to think of how we can develop projects as bridges; ways for our community members to access our projects.
4. FIND THE LEADERS ON YOUR DOORSTEP
R-urban Poplar has spent the last year developing their already successful work in building closed loop food production systems on the Teviot Estate in Poplar, running workshops, trainings and getting a composting system up and running.
As the year progressed the programme discovered that the best way to keep the food work connected to both the climate emergency and to the community was to develop leaders where they are. Local expertise is huge, through the food growing programming the team have been supporting local people to become more knowledgeable on fighting climate change locally, and to run their own workshops – these people are local climate leaders.
One more lesson for good measure! There is no shortcut to generating community interest. For the R-urban team, it was clear; you have to knock doors, knock more doors, have conversations and repeat. A community of interest is built, and it starts with knowing who should be involved and speaking to everyone systematically!
5. START SMALL AND BUILD OUTWARDS
Plastic Free Poplar (PFP) has been busy across the last year in the Poplar area, raising residents’ awareness on the harmful effects of single use plastics on the environment and their health, and encouraging them to take action to reduce single use plastics waste. After conducting a number of market stalls and pop-up workshops it became clear that it’s not that people were not aware of the issues related to climate change locally, it was more that very few people believe change could come from themselves. Sitting with this insight the team decided they needed to work with people over the long term, developing their knowledge and resourcefulness so they might see themselves as agents of change.
The PFP team have been working with ESOL students in local colleges over several months, and it now feels clearer than ever that starting small and building outwards is the only way to empower local community to feel confident in tackling the issue of plastic waste.