BedZED and Beyond
BEDZED and Beyond
(Beddington Zero Energy Development)
How did you make a start with this project? What was you first step?
Rob was already involved in supporting the BedZED Pavilion which was a building that was on the BedZED site. The BedZED site is a large eco-village built on a brown field site that used to be an old sewage works in south London. Rob had been involved in raising money to develop a kitchen and other internal renovations for the BedZED Pavilion. At this time Rob had already earned a reputation for being able to raise funds. It was hoped that the BedZED Pavilion would support sporting activity on the land next door. However by 2018, it became apparent that this land was too boggy and unsuitable for sporting activity and a number of unfortunate events with the building meant that the whole premise behind the use of this area needed to be re-thought. This was one of a number of events that opened up an opportunity to develop the land into a forest garden and subsequently a number of social orchards along the River Wandle in the Wandle Valley Regional Park.
Rob worked with the BedZED Pavilion Committee, Peabody Housing Trust and the local residents committee. The land next door to the was owned partly by Peabody and partly by the local council. A number of consultations with local residents by various organisations demonstrated support for developing the land into a community garden or similar. As well as some guerrilla planting by residents and volunteers, Rob obtained agreement from the local council (a license to plant trees) to plant on the land behind BedZED. This agreement from the council, enabled Tesco to provide £10k to start some tree planting.
This was a challenging time with disagreements between the various stakeholders. It seemed that everybody wanted to help in different ways with roughly the same agenda but not quite! For example one of the consultations was contested and unfortunately this amongst other things led to conflict between the various different committees involved. Rob reflected that this was a ‘Nightmare’ at times. However, he was persistent and patient. He has learned that sometimes he must wait and allow the various cogs to align. BedZED residents planted garden space on BedZED Field including a wildflower meadow, a fledgling forest garden, some kick-around space, gym equipment, herb planters and ‘allotment troughs’ for vegetables. Social Orchards planted some trees into this field and several more on the land adjacent, passing the care of this area to some enthusiastic locals in 2020.
Change can be a long slow process, but with persistent and patience, and where the various stakeholders have broadly similar aims it’s possible to find a way.
At the same time Rob was on the exec committee of Wandle Valley Regional Park Forum. This represented about 100 organisations including 4 councils, local colleges, foodbanks, refugees and more who shared a vision for ‘Greening’ Wandle Valley. They imagined a green park with houses within the park and people able to step out of their houses and pick fresh fruit from the trees and other locally grown produce. The aim was that people would live in the orchard, rather than visit the orchard. This vision fitted with the historic landscape in that there are a number of ancient parks in the Wandle Valley and some pre-existing old orchards.
Some of the inspiration for this idea came from a presentation at the Real Farming Conference by Ashley Dobbs, which showed how brown field sites could be developed into housing with integral community growing space, with people living within them. Harmony Developments acted as an inspiration.
Sometimes serendipitous events coincide and act as a catalyst for enabling community projects to get off the ground. Keep your eyes open for the opportunities and capitalise on the energy and openings they generate. The time was right…
At this point in late 2018/19 Rob and enthusiastic volunteers had planted trees and other plants behind the BedZED Pavilion site and there was money left over.
However, by this point the vision for developing social orchards throughout the Wandle Valley has been established and Rob was being contacted by various organisations and groups along the Wandle Valley to help them start their own social orchards. Rob had lots of contacts who were able to provide fruit trees at wholesale price or for free. The original £10K acted as seed funding to get some of these projects off the ground. Rob provided whatever help was required e.g. supporting funding applications, planting expertise, connecting groups together to build partnerships to help with fulfilling criteria for grant applications, sourcing trees etc. Rob grew up on a farm and the skills he learned in planting and maintaining trees as he grew up have helped Rob support other residents in a very practical way. When asked how Rob sees his involvement in the numerous social orchard projects, Rob explained that he acts as a catalyst. He helps people get started and once the group is able to stand on their own two feet he leaves them to get on with it. Social Orchards have now planted over 900 fruit trees with 55 community food-growing spaces around London and about a dozen along the Wandle Valley, a number with some underplanting which in time will be developed into Forest Gardens. Along the way, other funders have emerged to offer money, including Rabbies Tours (£2k) and Hawkes Cider (£2k in 2020 and £2k in 2021).
- Partnerships are an important enabler and can open up opportunities for funding
- The community need to ‘Own’ the project to make it sustainable in the longer term
- A person who acts as a catalyst is really helpful to get things off the ground, but they may move on to the next project, so it’s important that the project is supported by local residents who are willing and able to look after the trees and other plants.
Robs experience is that there are plenty of organisations and charities that want to fund this sort of work and he reflected conversations with fundholders where they are frustrated at not being able to support this sort of work because too often the application forms don’t meet the criteria they need. Rob explained that he was able to buddy up organisations which helped groups to meet funding criteria and provide text which could be ‘Cut and pasted’ into application forms. He described being offered funding without asking as word spread about the social orchards he helping to develop.
- Seek help with filling out funding applications
- Seek out partnerships with like minded groups and wok to each other’s mutual benefit to develop your community project
As Rob told his story it became apparent that Rob was skilled at networking and building contacts and this had been a key component of the success of the work so far, both in securing funding, but also in his work to catalyse other projects. Part of the way Rob enabled this aspect of the work was through publicity. Rob explained that he has a Facebook page, he briefly had a website, but that proved too costly to maintain. Some leaflets were printed for free and amongst many things a poster was designed for the EU Green infrastructure project in 2019. Rob also explained that he had been interviewed about the project by BBC Radio London, Facebook, Royal Horticultural Society and the Centre for Alternative Technology Graduate School. These interviews had sometimes led to chance meetings with other like minded people and this has had a snowball effect, steadily building momentum for the project.
- Publicity and networking help to build momentum and build the work.
Rob explained that he has learned to identify potential blocks either with foresight or as he comes across them and then works with the various stakeholders to work their way through the blocks. It helps that he sometimes comes with funding. He explained that he is fairly light touch in the way he operates, partly because he has another full time job and partly because he has learned that sometimes things just take time. He finds rigid rules an irritation and tends to cut through bureaucracy, believing in the principles that he and the groups he is working with, will cut through any red tape.
- Be clear about your vision
- Be able to articulate a story about what you are doing and why
Rob has worked with many groups. Generally, he’s not fussy about the mix of fruit trees that he offers to people, explaining that there are so many and a mix of varieties, that the intricacies of pollination don’t really matter. He did however describe one school that he worked with, where they decided on what trees they were going to plant by running an apple tasting session and choosing to plant the apples that they liked the taste of best! In many spaces, groups have wanted to plant varieties that will suit modern tastes, in some areas people have wanted heritage varieties suitable to the area e.g. historic gardens.
- Be flexible in your approach with different partners.
When asked why Rob did this work, he replied
“Its so fulfilling and so rewarding…seeing people picking the fruit and seeing the blossom in the spring.”