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.

What support is needed to encourage the development of community led projects?

October 24, 2012

This group of  projects has been funded by the council where it has been required.  The aim was to prototype different approaches and review whether each project had the potential to be sustained as a community  led venture.   For the council to financially  sustain community led projects in the long term is neither appropriate or viable.   Aside from the financial support,  there has also been the time invested from volunteers  who have brought with them their expertise and personal commitment.  The support  required from the council and other organisations for example  High Trees Community Trust and Lambeth Living  has ranged from a sympathetic ear to practical support.  Some projects  have required more support than others to explain processes, navigate communication channels and clear blockages.   Where another organisation has been the lead such as High Trees Community Trust, they have taken on this responsibility.  Further consideration is required to review the available mechanisms and resources  to support community led projects at start up through to developing into a sustainable enterprise.

What are the risks associated with this approach?

October 23, 2012

At the beginning of the project planning when ideas were being developed, more consideration could have been given to the risks associated with the each of the projects.  Once the projects began to evolve, there was  a better  understanding of the importance of risk management processes.  The standard issues such as health and safety, first aid and minimum staffing levels began to be raised and addressed.  In addition specific projects had additional checks that were needed.  For example  the BBQ bike needed to be issued with a food safety certification and site visit and public liability insurance was required for the manager of poly tunnel which was placed on Lambeth Living land. The latter example raises real questions about assumed liability between parties should any issues have arisen (e.g. Lambeth Living, Lambeth Council or High Trees Community Trust who were awarded the funding to deliver the project).

There are also accountability issues and the need for transparency in respect of payment processes, especially as the protocol for was for the council to manage at arms length.   It was more expedient for High Trees to assume responsibility of the budgets for the majority of the projects for a small administration fee.   As a consequence this made High Trees Community Trust responsible for ensuring  that  project budgets were spent with probity and the planned outcomes delivered rather than the individual project manager.  Some of the projects have been delivered by project leads who are working alone, without the support of constituted groups or organisations.  It is important for future projects to consider well in advance the range of processes which need to be put in place to manage risk.


What is the process for evidencing outcomes when working with the community?

October 19, 2012

The principle objective of this series of projects was to learn about co-delivery of projects between council and community groups.  As a result, there was no  requirement for the project to demonstrate achievement of outcomes or to evidence sustainability in themselves.

To reduce bureaucratic burden, it was decided that project leads did not need to identify outputs and project deliverables at the outset, in favour of a more evolved organic approach to project delivery.  The only requirement tied to the funding provided was that progress and learning was recorded on the coop toolkit blog. Unfortunately, few project leads have been able to identify their learning about working with the council on the blog.

There is evidence of activity and success from these projects.  For example, Metropolitan Housing has agreed to fund youth activity at the St Martin’s community centre for a year, the poly tunnel has been sited on the Cherry Close on the Tulse Hill estate and is producing crop for local salad providers, and the BBQ bike has engaged  approximately 120 people and identified a number of skills shortage which will inform the development of future projects to address these skills-gaps. However, it may prove difficult to evaluate the outcomes or social value gained from these projects given that the absence of any criteria against which these successes and achievements can be measured.  This demonstrates that, while working with the community requires us to adapt our processes, this should not be to detriment of core values such as robustness, accountability and the need to evidence outcomes of projects.

Made in Lambeth II

October 18, 2012


As many of you will know, a second Made in Lambeth event took place last weekend here in Brixton at the Town Hall. I think I can safely say it was a real success! Firstly thank you ever so much to all of you who came along, braving London transport when so much of the tube was down. It was really appreciated and the impressive turn out at the weekend shows us how enthusiastic people are to make a real difference to where we live.

The making and creating on all three projects was substantial and we have some brilliant work to take forward together over the coming weeks and months. Some of the outputs was as follows:

  • Neighbourhood networks – This project started life as a concept called ‘Street Friends’ and soon turned into ‘Our Street’. The idea is to create networks of neighbors working together on their streets to improve the immediate area where they live. The idea grew out of the Community Freshview project, where feedback told us one of the most positive changes this project has is getting neighbors to talk to each other, often for the first time. This leads to increased interaction and positive change.  Communtiy Freshview is resource intensive however, and ‘Our Street’ is about providing even more people with the tools and support they need to get on with projects they want to do themselves, knowing they have the full backing of the council to do so. Some of the tools created over the weekend included a website design which includes content about what can be done legally and how to do it, notice boards to gather ideas on your street and a sticker to put in your window which says that ‘im a friendly neighbor  please ask me to help out.’
  • Connectors – The next project was around identifying the people in the community with skills and connections who we should target with opportunities to volunteer and to get them involved in community projects. This was a wide ranging brief that took in skills mapping, volunteering and inclusion. A number of strands came out of this. One group looked at promotional materials to illustrate that volunteering is something that is extremely positive in many ways and created the ‘Superstar Volunteer’ idea. This included a video that set out what people personally get out of being a volunteer. Another group worked on developing a website that aggregates volunteering opportunities in the borough. And another group developed the idea of ‘The Nest’, a space provided by the council in council buildings for entrepreneurs and social enterprises to work together and with the council, bringing in people with skills from the community.
  • YLC – The Young Lambeth Cooperative had an incredible time of it and from the off it was clear they would achieve what they set out to achieve  What was really powerful was the involvement of young people themselves who left the weekend having gained a lot of experience in working with professionals on a project that would have a tangible impact on their lives. The group managed to create a strong brand for the YLC, sticking with the name ‘Young Lambeth Coop’ but using the abbreviation YLC. They came up with a logo and font and tested this out with the young people who were present. They developed a communications plan based around social media and mediums that young people wanted to use, as well as creating a website. They also explored ideas around incentives, and what would encourage young people and their parents to get involved in the YLC.

So now that we have these projects up and running, alongside the three projects still going from the first event, we want to keep momentum going and plan for another two day Made in Lambeth event sometime in the near future. Firstly we will host a catch up event for you to all come along and continue to work on your projects and to discuss any ideas you might have. At the event last weekend we suggested the 24th for a catch up, but unfortunately that is no longer possible, so instead we would like to invite you to the Town Hall in Brixton on Tuesday 30th October between 6-9pm to meet up with your old team mates and possibly go for a drink afterwards! Let me know if you are able to come along at


Finally we have some pictures and the twitter feed from the event:


We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on the 30th October!


Sustaining interest in Public Services by Design projects

October 12, 2012

As projects moved from ideas to delivery, it became clear that the high-ranking ‘officials’ who took part in the initial ideas workshops, and the partnership delivery was not sustained.  By the end of the project, the core group involved in delivery was limited to several (often more junior) council officers and a handful of committed community members.

Of this committed group of community leads, we could see clearly that the individuals that remained engaged in the process are those whose personal interest aligns strongly with the outcomes of the project (personal interest may mean the aims of their organisations or the benefit of their own neighbourhood).

This is of course completely understandable but should reaffirm to the council that, for those working in a voluntary capacity or as a community member, personal interest is paramount in determining the activities they will get involved in.  Projects that are community-led are more likely to lead to sustained engagement of the individuals.  Conversely, the council should expect gaps in community provision if interest doesn’t exist at grass roots level. In adopting this way of working, the council may need to acknowledge that facilities in some areas will look markedly different from others as a result.

The process we followed for Public Services by Design

October 12, 2012

The project was launched through a kick-off workshop. It was well-attended by the community partners and the council and 96 ideas were generated. It is unclear whether there was an expectation of an on-going commitment from the original group of attendees but on-going engagement has reduced to a core delivery group.  Some of this core group, have found the additional project work unmanageable within their resources and have identified the need for better understanding of expectations at the outset.

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

Assets on the Tulse Hill Estate – what can you teach?

July 25, 2012

Skills Game

As part of the activities to surface, share and link resources and assets on the Tulse Hill Estate (see post on Your Ideas Here) today saw a pop up cafe on the grass between the blocks. With ice cold juice, biscuits and free conversation in the afternoon sunshine – we were introducing the idea of a Trade School and had a Skills Game to show just how many skills people have that are often taken for granted.

What can you teach?

Trade School is an open learning space, where anyone can offer to teach and say what they’d like in exchange for their class. People sign up to come along by promising to bring along an item that the teacher has requested. For example swap a tea pot, a good book, your favourite recipe or some paint for the chance to learn a new skill. The idea was received positively by people we spoke to, and in the course of the afternoons conversations, suggested lessons that people felt they could offer included ‘how to make compost from kitchen waste’, ‘an introduction to world politics’ and ‘children’s activities – how to keep your kids happy and safe’. And the Skills Game board soon filled up with ticks as people picked out the things they knew how to do, so the unique variety of classes that Trade School Tulse Hill might include became apparent.

To find out more or get involved come along to the workshop on Mon 30 Jul 6.30pm