By Sarah Allison
It’s not every borough that can boast a ‘Green Community Champions’ (GCC) Officer. But in Brixton and Lambeth, Sue Sheehan is your lady if you want to start up an environmental project. Her job remit is broad; as an advisor, she can tell you things like simple ways to keep your house warm. She’s also a ‘social gluer’ and says she can connect anyone with green ambitions to local groups.
“A big part of my job is giving people the encouragement and confidence they need to pursue their ideas.” Sue told us. “Connecting them with one of the many active groups already running in the Borough is often a first step, so people can meet like-minded people and share ideas, and this often stimulates the creation of other projects.”
Allowing people to take the lead and support them in achieving their vision are what makes Brixton’s GCC projects unique. It’s enabled thriving local projects such as Cowley Food Farm and Ruskin Park Community Garden. In other boroughs, the approach to growing community projects is often more prescriptive and controlled.
Food growing groups in Lambeth have been particularly successful. They all fall under the umbrella Incredible Edible Lambeth and uniting them in this way means they can work more closely with other organisations, such as the NHS and local Council, and contribute more meaningfully to wider agendas such as food security, food poverty, and health and well-being.
Sue is clearly proud of how growing projects are uniting people in our own neighbourhood: “We are starting to be involved in policy-making decisions, which is exciting. There is also fantastic momentum building in the Borough for food growing and self-sufficiency. Incredible Edible Lambeth unites over 150 food growing groups in the borough, which represents a significant number of people who are actively involved in food growing in some way. Thanks to Lambeth council removing many of the barriers encountered by other areas, things like guerrilla gardening and growing on disused land have been possible. Cultivating these areas hugely brightens up neighbourhoods and helps bring communities together.”
The resurgence in interest in food growing is down to two big issues – energy and food. Prices of both are climbing as long term food and energy security become increasingly unstable and unpredictable. Frustrated at the lack of action from the government and big business to address the factors causing the price hikes, people in Brixton have taken matters into their own hands.
“It’s really been a case of people power and collaboration. Also, residents are seeing what has already been achieved by others in the Borough, and this is inspiring and motivating even more people to get involved in something they’re passionate about, whether it’s generating clean energy, food growing or cooking with unwanted food.”
If you want to get involved or are thinking of starting up your own group, you can contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GreenCChampion. Connect with the Green Community Champions Group on Project Dirt.