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In terms of sustainability groups, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership is relatively ancient at almost twelve years old. The key to their dynasty of success seems to have been deep community and local government integration, as well as a willingness to work with other transition and sustainability initiatives across all sectors.
In an interview with Rachael Durant of SPRU for the Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability (ARTS) Project, Jess Crocker and Vic Borrill of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership shed some light on how they work and encourage a thriving sustainable food partnership in Brighton.
The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership act as a hub for organisations working around food and food wastage in the city. They teach cookery courses, help start community gardens, give advice on reducing wastage, have dieticians and provide eating advice and support in tackling obesity, give support to food banks and run weight management programmes in the city.
In 2009 when the project began working with community gardens in Brighton, there were 25 strewn across the city. Now that number has tripled to 75, with the partnership being involved in varying capacities with almost all of them. With a 51% rise in the usage of food banks across the UK, the partnerships focuses have shifted over the past decade to meet new challenges.
This adaptation to new challenges has, in large part, been easy due to the organisation’s broad remit and wide variety of partner organisations. The project always aimed to work with diverse groups of citizens. Thanks to this, they have been able to find the resources and information needed to meet new challenges by making close interpersonal relations across the city. The team of just over twenty people have developed these connections and nurtured dialogue between other groups. Also, owing to the condensed and integrated nature of Brighton’s sustainability groups they have been able to work with other organisations for a common goal of improving the diet and quality of food for their service users.
Indeed, the focus on service users’ needs has been key to the organisation’s ability to adapt. Interacting with the service users and their referral services has been key. Referral organisations such as learning disability advisors, health trainers, housing support and mental health recovery workers has ensured that those most in need of the work of the Food Partnership receive it. It also means the service users most affected by changes to food costs and the economy are actively involved in the work of making food sustainable for all. The democratisation of the organisation has certainly been a strength.
In terms of successes, the partnership found that service users involved in community gardening with mental health problems gained a greater benefit and improvement than those without mental health problems. This demonstrates how projects may have un-expected intersecting benefits in the city, in this case providing both food and improvements to health.
The focus on working with vulnerable people has also been a useful source of funding for the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership. With many organisations looking to reduce food poverty or hunger, the partnership has managed to fulfil this aim and to teach vulnerable people how to grow their own food, how to cook it and how to reduce wastage. The true “spade to spoon” method (which is also the title of their pioneering food strategy plan for the city).
The organisation is as well placed as any in the city to create transitions to sustainability. With council, charitable and lottery funding and a close relationship with both community groups and local government it is firmly at the centre of food sustainability in Brighton. There is a question however of if Brighton’s transition to sustainability needs umbrella organisations. With so many organisations working in such a small area, it seems the formalisation of connections may just add unnecessary bureaucracy to an already thriving community that is transitioning towards sustainability. But, if the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership is anything to show by, a little co-ordination between sectors and groups can go a long way.