OUR PROJECTS

We have many projects under our belts. We have highlighted a few examples here and will gladly, on request, share stories of our engagements with other companies, governments, health authorities, cities, intergovernmental bodies and NGOs. All you have to do is ask.

 

THE UK FARMERS' MARKETS MOVEMENT

Changing The Way We Buy Our Food

After several years of local food action, we had begun to realise by the early 1990s that there was a deep desire among the citizens of our home city, Bath, for better connections with the land and with the growers of our food. We spent time working with the local authority and nearby farmers to establish what was to become the first farmers' market in England for several generations. In order to make the shopping experience as easy and enjoyable as possible, we worked with a national supermarket group who provided a beautiful location in the form of a fully restored (but no longer active) Victorian railway station under a delightful antique glass canopy. People could shop under cover in all weathers and park their cars nearby for easy transport. We had only two rules: 'thirty miles maximum and no middle people'. Customers were buying directly from the farmers who had produced the food and they were very local indeed. On Day One, after a solid year of growing, rearing and planning, everything sold in under one hour - we had a runaway success on our hands. The BBC got wind of the story and sent a film crew to film the two of us and our then very young children haggling for muddy carrots with local growers. Within two years of the documentary being screened, over 530 more farmers' markets had sprung up all over the UK. The BBC Radio 4 Food Programme people called us and said "You've started a movement!" We replied "No, we started a market; YOU have turned it into a movement - but we couldn't be happier!" We went on to create a farming apprenticeship programme for vulnerable school-leavers in one of the UK's most hard-hit youth crime areas, funded by the local authority and the European Social Fund. Rob also based his postgrad research on local vs global food systems, which has led to many exciting projects in other parts of the world. And the supermarket chain, despite losing a small amount of produce sales, picked up a significant chunk of market share from their competitors - people were treating themselves to some local goodies and then shopping at the onsite supermarket for everything the farmers don't produce, like DVDs, cleaning products and televisions. The return on the corporation's investment, in fact, paid back hundreds of times over every week!

ENGINEERING A BETTER FUTURE

From Young Offenders to Successful Young Professionals

We were working on a UK-wide community investment project with a national utility company when we discovered a fascinating fact about the company's Chairman: he had come up through the ranks, starting as an apprentice engineer many years before. He spotted the opportunity to solve two major problems with one brilliant idea: the UK had a serious shortage of young engineers and an acute youth crime problem. Over the next few years, hundreds and hundreds of young offenders were given the opportunity to gain vital training and the possibility of full-time employment if they simply committed successfully to three core principles: 1. A minimum attendance record 2. Passing the necessary tests (additional specialist coaching and mentoring was provided for those with dyslexia and other significant challenges) 3. No re-offending. At the time the average re-offending rate in this area was alarmingly high; the apprenticeship programme reduced this rate dramatically. These were young people whose future had looked very bleak indeed and who were likely to suffer repeated punishments with few opportunities in life. Instead they have become well-paid young professionals with prospects, mortgages, and children of their own who can also look forward to better futures. Not only that, an analysis by one of the UK's leading accounting firms calculated that the savings to the taxpayer amount to a staggering figure currently running at many millions of pounds. This is a story in which almost everyone is a winner!

URBAN REGENERATION AGAINST MASSIVE ODDS

From Poverty to Prosperity Across the Generations

Working with the outstanding and inspiring Paul Clarke - our favourite mad (yet somehow supremely sane) professor - at the Pop-Up Foundation, we were all invited by the Prince of Wales to create a project to address some of the most acute urban poverty in England. The scheme involved the establishment of food-growing initiatives in 38 local primary schools across one initial city. The results were astonishing and exceeded everyone's expectations. Funded by an international supermarket company and a group of home improvement retailers, the project first provided teams of eight- and nine-year-olds each with a 'plotting shed' in which the initial trainings and brainstorms were held. In no time the kids were designing raised beds for the playgrounds and vegetable plots for the playing fields and the sprouts were popping up all over town. Before we knew it the older teenage brothers and sisters were helping to set up farm sales at the school gates at pick-up time. This meant they were getting into less trouble upon leaving school. Slowly we began to notice that grandpas who had been resigned to spending the rest of their lives as out-of-work ex-miners were joining their grandchildren and showing them how to double-dig a vegetable plot and keep carrot fly off their crops using baked bean tins like they'd been taught by their grandpas! The kids were taking home fresh fruit and veg to their parents, who were getting the benefits of improved nutrition as well as saving money on the weekly groceries. Finally the grandmas announced that they were going back to their much-missed bingo evenings now that the streets felt safer. We wondered why this was. It seems there were now fewer teenagers finding it necessary to finance drugs habits by mugging and burglary, as they had something more useful and rewarding to do helping their younger siblings with their horticultural enterprises! Fewer muggings and lowered drug misuse, of course, also means significant savings to the local NHS, police, probation, social services and criminal court systems. And that is in addition to reduced depression and increased fitness for all the better nourished and increasingly active parents and grandparents in the community. We are now looking to bring this approach to other areas of major urban poverty. Watch this space...

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