Naomi Barnes shares her journey as Coordinator of the Local Good Food Alliance -June 2021
My role as the Local Good Food Alliance Coordinator started in mid December 2020, after Ola Wojtkiewicz set up the group in response to community engagement as part of Sustaining Dunbar’s ‘What If?’ project, the previous summer. There are over 50 partners in the network from the Dunbar and East Linton ward and the majority engage actively with others following our activities from a distance. The ideas that initially emerged went into an action plan that aimed to support local growers, reduce food waste and improve everyone’s access to good local, organic food. The global pandemic rumbled on in the background of these conversations, highlighting the urgent need to tackle inequality and to live more sustainably, reducing our carbon footprints and taking action to improve our environment for the sake of biodiversity. It’s important to recognise that localising our food growing systems and growing organically, can create the environment to allow people to live more sustainably and connect with nature, reduce their use of carbon and improve biodiversity.
After over 20 years teaching, I completed a horticultural course to help me better understand how to look after the orchard at the Belhaven Community Garden. I had been volunteering there for 9 years and my main interest is in fruit growing and trees. I have strong connections with the local community after living and teaching here for many years and bringing up my children here. Shortly after the first lockdown in 2020 I also volunteered to join the board of the Community Carrot and quickly learned how a Community Benefit Society operates and where our local food is coming from.
As the Local Good Food Alliance (LGFA) coordinator my main focus has been to respond to immediate issues facing our members and strive to find workable, practical solutions while planning ahead for future developments and events. This is achieved by:
- moderating the mobile app Mobilize that provides a platform for members to use as a forum and a place to exchange information and views, ensuring that connections are made between members and that they have an effective means to collaborate together.
- setting up and facilitating regular meetings with individual members of LGFA and as a group to improve communication, share news and needs and find common solutions.
- facilitating community planning around the use of community resources that have been purchased and stored locally for example, the apple mill, apple press and rotavator. This benefits Dunbar growers and any of the communities in the surrounding area who want to borrow the equipment.
- searching for funding streams and writing funding applications to support local initiatives that promote improved access to good local food and an increase in biodiversity. For example the Community Outreach Gardener and projects. The direct beneficiaries are Dunbar nursery school, more vulnerable adults in the community and adults with learning difficulties.
- initiating community events around fruit harvests to share local knowledge and skills and to help people reconnect after the isolation of the last year during the pandemic. This is open to the general public and engages young and old alike.
- connecting to statutory groups to raise the profile of the LGFA and build better working collaborative relationships with those in the Community Council and the Local Authority and to create a plan that can effectively implement initiatives that are included in their strategies as well as influencing the content of their strategies.
- connecting to other communities in the region and further afield who are setting out on the journey in establishing community gardens to share advice, knowledge and skills.
- actively recruiting volunteers to support community initiatives via the new SOLE website, social media and Volunteer Centre East Lothian. This has a wide reach across the community, from unemployed or furloughed members of the community to students.
I am particularly proud of the way people have come together to work with the LGFA to kick start new initiatives and make a real difference to people’s lives. The following is a brief summary of who we are working with and what we have achieved.
- The partnership with the Belhaven Brewery and Sustaining Dunbar. This has initiated 3 years of core funding for our Community Outreach Gardener and established the basis to secure match funding. The Brewery benefits from 6 hours a week of the gardener’s expertise and time to develop their Secret Garden and draw in volunteers from the community to help.
- Dunbar Nursery’s Beehive garden project with the Community Outreach Gardener. Now that she is in post, she is working with nursery staff to develop a large area of land next to Dunbar’s nursery into a multi-sensory, educational, nature-friendly garden. A huge amount of planning is being undertaken and will lead to a transformation of the area so that nursery and children up to primary 3 can play, learn and explore in a natural environment and grow their own fruit and vegetables. Caroline, our gardener, has a 17 hour per week contract split over 3 projects and her work will continue subject to us obtaining extra funding.
- Royal Voluntary Service’s social prescribing. We are now connected to the RVS, who refer clients to the Belhaven Community Garden for therapeutic sessions on Tuesday afternoons with our Community Outreach Gardener. Sessions are individually tailored to each person, depending on their mobility and levels of skill and energy.
- Belhaven Community Garden (BCG) and East Lothian Council. There are adults with learning difficulties living in the area whose activities have been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. We have started sessions at the BCG for them where they can come to the garden, spend time outdoors together, socialise and garden with our COG.
- Sessions at the BCG for the teens on the Rural Skills course at The Ridge. These are run together with the course leader from the Ridge and their volunteers, our gardener and volunteers from the Belhaven Community garden. The majority of the course is delivered at the Backlands in Dunbar, but the BCG offers a different venue where pupils can learn skills around tree care, preparing a plot, and growing in a different environment. Sessions started in May and will run regularly through the next academic year. This is coordinated by volunteers.
- Cookouts at the Belhaven Garden organised by Hannah Ewan – the Community Carrot’s Development Officer. Hannah has been running these sessions outdoors since last summer, constantly adapting to meet new Covid restrictions and always determined to bring her joy of food to new families. She teaches primary aged children with their carers or parents how to prepare new and delicious recipes to encourage them to try new foods and cook from scratch.
In the last 6 months, a large part of my work has revolved around strengthening the relationships in the network, creating the new Community Outreach Gardener position and starting mini-projects that in some way are connected to the Belhaven Community Garden. Many of these will continue to be run by volunteers for as long as the goodwill and interest is nurtured and maintained. Others will depend on securing funding. My intention has been to secure enough funding for our new Community Outreach Gardener to establish her 3 core projects for a 3 year period but currently we are still awaiting the outcome of several funding applications.
The LGFA network has contributed to key aspects of our ‘What Next?’ community recovery plan: Sustaining Places, Sustaining People. The level of engagement and feedback from our members is impressive and couldn’t have been achieved to such a successful extent without the network to fall back on. In collaboration with Yvonne Wemyss, Community Engagement Manager at Sustaining Dunbar, members of the LGFA have formulated future plans around 3 themes:
Further Development of the Local Good Food Alliance
Many of the events around the fruit harvest at the Belhaven Community Garden are set up but yet to take place, and many others will carry on beyond the summer run by the Community Outreach Gardener and volunteers. The LGFA coordinator role was financed by the The Scottish Government Community Recovery Fund and comes to an end in June 2021, in just a few weeks time. The continuation of the Local Good Food Alliance offers a big opportunity to the local community to start living in a more sustainable way, with nature and good food at the centre of our lives.