Lambeth Poly coming out of hibernation

January 29, 2013
the brand

the brand

In December we put the project to bed. The Design Council project was over, we’d wound down the sowing regime, and in any case, it was so cold the remaining plants seemed to shrink rather than grow. Pamela, Bibi and I delivered the last batch of a mere 100g of microgreens to Cornercopia. Anne and Ian graciously paid and, as ever, with B£-by-text. They’ve always said they would take whatever we brought. Our leaves are great quality, so why not?

washing up and putting away

washing up putting away

We had a wind up meeting at the PEP office and, as I’d been sent the innovation fund guidelines, I went to pitch for a follow on to the project’s success. This would be in the form of funding to build the business plan and look at governance for Lambeth Poly, Social Enterprise. ‘Really well done. Good luck. Goodbye’ was the upshot…

I was let down and, rightly or wrongly, felt

the last crop of 2012

the last crop of 2012

patronised by talk of ‘managing expectations’. I didn’t want to say ‘Really well done. Good luck. Goodbye’ to the volunteers, residents and Lambeth Living staff involved at Tulse Hill Estate. But I had to weigh up whether I could invest my time and effort in starting a not-for-profit business on no income when I have a household to support. Lambeth Poly is about enterprise (we won a London-wide award for it), but my motivations are about developing capacity for food production in the borough – not being an Alan Sugar.



While recognising the wonderful opportunity this particular Co-op council project gave, I’ve had frank conversations about lessons here and what it’s like to be a dumped community member. I wondered whether to walk away, and a chance horoscope reading gave me permission – or did it? I dithered all Christmas, while still researching and visioning different scenarios.

However, now, at the end of January I can report some creative developments.

  1. Fairy godmother Frances Farragher met with Lesley Robinson (ALS) and I. Long story short, but it looks like an accredited award, ‘Introduction to Urban Farming’will be delivered at the tunnel  this summer to residents. This will include work experience and crop production elements. It will build on the informal training plan I gave last year and pave the way for progression routes. I’m working with Alan Clisham, Community Adult Learning Manager at High Trees, and it’s hoped some of the delivery will be at the due to be opened Jubilee Hall.
  2. Frances also fostered the notion of using Loughborough Triangle as an interim second site. We’ve now had two really productive meetings of the Loughborough Farm steering group, and a particularly inspiring trip to the Skip Garden in Kings Cross, less for the growing than for ways of integrating values quite overtly in the work. See twitter feed for more on this @lambethpoly. The linking of Tulse Hill and Loughborough Junction by Lambeth Poly is exciting and I’m looking forward to recruiting for the summer course from both areas – and other potential sites (there are a few others in the pipeline)
  3. The project gathered a lot of friends in 2012 – knowledgeable people and capable stakeholders. I’m hoping to gather a steering group with the makings of a board to see if we can set up a social enterprise. Salome Simoes is seeing if PEP can take some of their slim and valuable time to run a series of three workshops with this group. I know there’s a will and I really hope there’s a way…
  4. Capital Growth are making their 2013 focus ‘Grow to Sell’. They’ve already signed up Lambeth Poly to deliver a workshop for London’s growers – one of 5 beacon projects doing this.
  5. Through my work for Garden Organic, I’ll be working on an EU research project, ‘Food Metres’, looking at how food journeys can be shortened. The research group – headed by Garden Organic’s research partner, Coventry University, will be using London food businesses for the case studies, including Lambeth Poly. This should allow plenty of insights and support for our project. It’s already interesting comparing the London approach to other European cities, and we are wondering if we will find more in common with the ‘control’ city, Nairobi.

If you know yourself to be a friend of Lambeth Poly I aim to be in touch as soon as the PEP workshops get the go ahead or I find an alternative. Or if you feel you have something to offer as an individual or group, please mail

Follow @lambethpoly

Lambeth Poly wins Enterprise Award

November 26, 2012

Lambeth Poly is delighted to have been awarded the prestigious Capital Growth Enterprise Award*.

This seals the interim success of this prototype project supported by Veolia (tunnel and materials) and the Innovation Fund under the Design Council Community Projects initiative.

Lambeth Poly trains residents to grow and sell salad leaves and herbs. It has run since July 2012 as a 16 x 18 ft (5 x 5.5m) polytunnel sited on Tulse Hill Estate, Brixton, on a green in the middle of public housing. The prototype phase ended November 2012.

The project is now looking to find a corporate structure and funding to grow the size and number of polytunnels. Another aim is to fund, write and have accredited a qualification specifically for urban polytunnel farmers. The long term goal is to grow capacity in the borough for a local food economy.

Rationale: The demand for locally grown food is rising. Food ‘miles’ push up prices and are bad for the environment.  Crops grow more quickly and for longer in the year in the protected environment of a polytunnel, increasing productivity. Polytunnels can be sited on land waiting to be developed, or other ‘residual’ land and does not require soil cleaning. In addition, re-skilling the community in growing is desirable and provides much social return on investment

Summary of achievement to date

Since the tunnel construction on July 7:

  • seven local volunteers have been trained and inducted in growing in the tunnel
  • three other ‘ambassadors’ from the estate are active
  • over £215 of baby leaves and 9cm herb pots have been sold to local restaurants (using £B), local veg box scheme Local Greens and, to a small extent, residents
  • 5 outreach/workshop events have been held (3 on the estate, 2 at Lambeth Country Show)
  • Two rounds of a cycle of three mini trainings have been held
  • Volunteers on the project have had three wider learning opportunities
  • Residents have been employed (to make a stop motion film of tunnel construction, to make benches and multi-dibbers)
  • project has generated much interest and countless ’friends’ on the estate and in wider Brixton and Lambeth
  • The project won Capital Growth’s Enterprise award in its Olympic year Grow for Gold competition


The polytunnel project was proposed by local horticulturist, trainer and garden designer Fiona Law, and matched to Lambeth Council’s Co-op by Design initiative. It was accepted it as one of a raft of community/council co-produced projects in the Tulse Hill area. Fiona will be taking the project forward.

To find out more or offer advice or funding contact 07914 843619 or

Links here evidence the work and community engagement on the project:!/journal

*To commemorate the Olympic year, Capital Growth launched in February 2012 the Grow for Gold competition. Capital Growth is a partnership initiative between London Food Link, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the Big Lottery’s Local Food Fund. It is championed by the Chair of the London Food Board Rosie Boycott and aims to create 2012 new community food growing spaces across London by the end of 2012.

Lambeth Poly – summer success

September 11, 2012

Lambeth Poly is an employment and skills food project growing in poly tunnels, with its first project on Tulse Hill Estate. See here for previous Lambeth Poly posts.

Highlights We’re really pleased to announce that over the summer we’ve sold several batches of leaves and herbs to Local Greens veg box scheme and to Brixton Village restaurant Cornercopia. We’ve taken payment by Brixton Pound Pay-by-Text. Seven residents have received full induction training, and a further seven are actively involved in the maintenance of the crops. In addition, the project has become Capital Growth Space 1817, opening funding opportunities.

Community The core team of volunteers are involved in production (sowing, watering, harvesting, weighing and bagging crops) and other residents also do daily tunnel chores (ventilating and watering).

There are also ambassadors/friends, for instance Laud (TRA Chair) and Yvonne Joseph (Lambeth Living), and Abu (youth worker living on Cherry Close) who also muck in with sowing.

Two other key people involved are Pamela Woodroffe from Cressingham Estate on Tulse Hill, who held the reins while I was away, and Carlos Mareiros from the estate, whose handy man skills are vital to continuing success, most lately installing chicken wire to stop foxes from tearing the polythene skin.

We always enjoy good chats with people passing through, and have got to know many residents and workers on the estate, such as Neville who collects litter and Dave the drains guy who fills up our watering cans if he can, Isabel who opens doors on the way to work.

There have been some good conversations around the growing table, and good meet ups between residents who didn’t know each other previously. A couple of weeks ago Abu and Laud sorted out martial arts sessions for the newly refurbished Jubilee Hall, for instance.

We’ve hosted growing sessions for children at the summer play scheme and a group from High Trees. Wider interest is developing via twitter (please follow @lambethpoly, and our Project Dirt Page) from growers both local and far away, social enterprise, food campaiging, council workers and local community groups. The project is also indebted to Ann Bodkin, co-chair of Incredible Edible Lambeth, who fired the link with Cornercopia.

As well as the training outlined above, three of the ‘team’ and I had an awayday ‘Grow to Sell’ training provided by Capital Growth at St Mungos in Clapham, where we got some top tips and ideas to develop.

As a grower/designer, the project has been a lot of fun, exploring crops that are marketable and how they grow in the model I designed, and I’ve been delighted with the response and suggestions of the trainees. Visitors and those we talk to admire the crops and the tunnel, are enthusiastic about both the social enterprise and long view resilience aspects to the project.

Next steps include:

  •     continued delivery of crops and exploration of the market
  •     delivery and recruitment of second tranche of training
  •     exploration of how formal training can be incorporated
  •     working with the Enterprise hub at High Trees to develop social enterprise model and funding opportunites to develop the model (aiming for three tunnels in 2013)
  •     open day for residents and all interested parties – Thursday 27th and Saturday 29th September 12 – 3 – visit us in your lunch hour!
  •     evaluation (resident/buyer feedback) and writing up

Rebecca from PEP came by to help one harvest morning: weighing

mixed Italian chicories and amaranth ‘Garnet Red’

bagged salads all ready to go down the hill to Local Greens where they’re doing Thursday collation

Anne at Cornercopia pays Brixton Pounds by text

Lambeth Poly stop motion construction video

July 19, 2012

Please take a moment to enjoy the stop motion film of the tunnel construction. The film is excellent for training and inspiration. When we come to spread the word, this will help people visualise what’s involved, and aim for making a ‘raising the barn’ event of of their build. We commissioned Tulse Hill Estate resident film maker Eduard Vijulie.

We’re looking for a composer to write a track for the film:  cheerful that captures the rythm of the making and the pulse of the sun, as well as the feeling of progress. Please spread the word via your social media. Follow us @lambethpoly and on Project Dirt and on flickr

it takes two: local resident Carlos and TRA chair Laud, got the doors on

you can’t buy these: Carlos was comissioned to make this tamper and multi-dibber set

nice work and a sunny day – Pamela (left) from Cressingham Estate is key volunteer

Peter Keenan from generous tunnel/materials sponsor Veolia dropped off seed trays and compost, and other goodies such as seaweed extract (growth stimulator) and capillary matting. Budget and payment all on track. High Trees project (Margaret Jarret), the grant holder have kindly set up the system set up for paying invoices.

Residential involvement is set up on 3 levels:

Friend – say hello, keep an eye out and come to informal growing workshops (first one held last weekend at the Action Day; we’re getting some nice friends!)

Volunteer – join the rota to help maintain the tunnel (emerging, enough at least for this week)

Trainee – job training for commercial veg growing (have one firm candidate – more needed – volunteers may morph into this)

Documents written: risk assessment, health and safety guidelines, registration with Lambeth Food Safety, aims of the project for volunteers, training schedule, first training session.

Documents drafted: training schedule, and first volunteers have been inducted. Beginning to compile training materials, like this demonstrating good sowing technique (link to flickr set)

Action Day helpers sowing our first crop: coriander

batch operations – so great to be growing crops at last

Outstanding issues

  • license for land use
  • installing water butts
  • lockable storage
  • recruiting trainees
  • chairs and table to help for training and meeting
  • photocopying/laminating
  • reporting last week’s knife slash to police
  • building of staging

Lambeth Poly – tunnel is up at Cherry Close, Tulse Hill Estate

July 7, 2012

Since the blog last week the tunnel has gone up at Cherry Close, Tulse Hill Estate!

Ben and the apprentices from Cultivate couldn’t have worked harder, and we had extra support from Veolia waste team and residents. It was a rare day without a single shower, and it was even sunny and hot at times.

Click here for the flickr slide show,, and click the info button top right of the page to see captions.

A successful day for engagement too. Lots of great chat with residents and workers on the esate, all supportive and encouraging. In addition, offers of support and materials. Some signing up to become volunteers for the routine maintenance and two for more formal training.  Tessy and Laura from the asset mapping Coop project popped round. Thanks to Yvonne Joseph at Lambeth Living, her colleagues and Laud the TRA chair for kettles and lots of other assistance in the day.

Film We employed Tulse Hill estate resident and film maker Eduard Vijulie to make a stop motion film of the construction. This should be fun and pleasing to watch (we’ll put it online) and serve as a visual overview for training. It will be a valuable resource when we come to replicate the project.

Problem The tunnel wasn’t completely finished, though, and that is a bit of a blow for the project. Ben can’t come back for two weeks. We have some volunteer support for continuing the build, but I had hoped to be able save all volunteer goodwill for the growing itself, not the build. Doors need fixing on, and there is some snagging to do. Having to be flexible.

Design In addition, the staging (growing tables along the sides of the tunnel) has not been started.  This is key to the labour-saving way the project was designed, with dripper bags leading to capillary matting and only needing filling up on a daily basis. Also, as the project relies on community support, staging was key to accessibility issues.  Lastly, a clearly defined and linear growing area will help all involved visualise and easily participate in the cropping cycle.

Help I am seeking handy people to at least get the doors attached.  The staging will be a two handyman job for the best part of the day. If anyone can persuade any of Lambeth’s contractors to spare a bit of time this week, that will be appreciated. Please contact Fiona on 07947 407237.

Tulse Hill Action Day 7.7.12 Resident informal workshop 1 (of 2 , or more). Residents potted up basil seedlings to grow on their windowsill.  Children carefully sowed a tray of coriander plugs. These will be ready to pot on to 9cm pots in about 3 weeks, and then for sale to Local Greens in their veg bags, for the bank holiday weekend.

Knife On the evening of the build the tunnel was slashed with a knife. Lambeth Living staff and residents alike are apalled. We feel it’s important to play it down and keep on the positive, as this easily plays into the hands of the naysayers/doubters (not that I know of any in particular). We have mended it with the assistance of some lads and children passing by, and will buy more tape.

Veolia – Robert, Dave and Peter – have been great in getting the tunnel and now supporting with getting timber, materials for growing, signage, sundries and so on. We are working to a pre-planned budget, and have been able to save on 9cm, pots, for example by reusing their empty trays of summer bedding.

Documenting I have started to compile the hard copy manual: risk assessments, training materials, my reflective notes and the model, construction manual, flyers, posters, research for signage

Please follow on twitter @lambethpoly

Lambeth Poly – launching next week!

June 29, 2012

We are very excited about the construction on Tulse Hill Estate on Thursday 5th July of the first (of many, we hope) of Lambeth Poly’s polytunnels. Veolia have generously donated the tunnel and associated materials, and Ben with apprentice team from Cultivate and other volunteers will construct it. Thanks to permission from Tulse Hill Estate TRA and Lambeth Living, the tunnel will go up on a central piece of land close to the housing office – one of the few flat sites available on the estate!  Fiona Law, project coordinator, will be installing the inside of the tunnel on Friday 6th and an ‘open house’ with seed sowing workshops for residents will be held at the Estate’s Action Day on Saturday 7th July. This is just the beginning of much fruitful (vegful?) activity.

Purpose of the project Lambeth Poly
The mission of Lambeth Poly is to provide job training in commercial veg growing for Lambeth residents.  The project will grow veg to sell locally, involving the trainees in running a business and providing a small income stream for the project. Each site will recruit trainees from the immediate surroundings, thus visibly benefiting that community, while increasing community cohesion. Exposure to veg growing will also positively affect mental wellbeing and healthy eating. And local growing helps Lambeth reduce its carbon footprint, improve food resilience, reskill in growing techniques, and model sustainable practices.

Minimum measurable outcomes within the 90 days of the ‘prototype’ on Tulse Hill Estate
(the beginning of the project, not its entire lifecycle):

  • successful crops sold on – on establishment, weekly salad and stir-fry leaves and one batch of culinary herbs in 9cm pots to veg bag scheme Local Greens (order confirmed). Leaves and herbs also to residents, local caterers, and to be used on the BBQ Employment Bike project and with the Jubilee Hall project coordinated by resident Michelle Martin. Potted herbs possibly at the Lambeth Show too.
  • 2 workshops for residents to engage support for the project
  • liaison with fellow Tulse Hill Coop projects (employment bike, soft skills at High Trees, resident skills mapping) and other partners to recruit (5?) trainees (and scope how that recruitment might be funded in future)
  • 3 growing training sessions (not accredited at this point)
  • recruitment and training of a team of 3 (?) volunteers to co-manage the tunnel (possibly leading to long-term employment)
  • a manual describing how to replicate the build and horticulture of the project
  • a document scoping community replication and formal training possibilities, to include research to identify other partners within the borough and outside, and future funding for this type of training
  • engagement with 3+ Lambeth Poly ambassadors/champions from the Estate

How will the project continue when funding and/or project lead is no longer available?

The plan is for the accredited training to fund the continuation of the project, and for the local residents to take over the day to day management if they wish. At the beginning of October residents at the Tulse Hill Estate and project will decide the future direction of the polytunnel of that particular 90-day prototype project. Lambeth Poly will identify and set up in other sites and will continue to supervise.

Follow us on twitter @LambethPoly

Join our Project Dirt Page

Fiona Law,, 07947 407237

Support officer LBL: Paula Royal,, 020 7926 0088

Comments on our PD page already:

Love the name. A polytechnic for growing polycultures under polythene! Love the concept. Local food. Duncan TTB Brixton

What a great idea! Pamela, Community Gardener Cressingham Gardens

About the project coordinator, Fiona Law
Co-chair of IEL, trainer in horticulture, Co-ordinator of the South London Master Gardeners (volunteers who support others with their growing), garden designer, former educational manager (language and literacy).

There have been quite a few diversions, digressions and interesting encounters with LBL culture since the project was chosen by the Design Council Community Project team at then end of April. Not keen to blog here on the frustrations of getting to this point as want to keep it all positive and the aims of the project are all consuming.  Can the council come up with an alternative method of feedback so community members doing cooperative work aren’t exposed on the ‘learning’ of which they bear the burden?