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Focus on the Positive



Archive for the 'Project' Category

Growing change: University as part of the community

Lizzy Baddeley11 March 2015

Marina Chang was the runner up in Focus on the Positive last May. Here she shares her story of taking part.

My PhD research explores the role of university-community engagement and co-operation in the development of sustainable food systems in London. During my PhD study, I visited and studied hundreds of community gardens across London.

In most community gardens in London, growing food productively is rare. But the Calthorpe Project, both a community garden and community centre, is one the most productive food growing spaces in Central London. In fact, the Calthorpe has been a pioneer in growing food in the city since the 1980s.

marina Chang

Marina Chang on stage

One of its visions is to create a localised food system. In this vision, local food production, distribution, consumption and waste can be closely connected to create synergies. Through this small scale model, huge impacts can be achieved as it can respond to global issues such as climate change, urban food security and food safety and many others.

Earlier this year, the Calthorpe Project was fortunate in having a bio-digester installed on site. This bio-digester can transform biodegradable waste into clean fuel and liquid fertiliser. The clean fuel will generate heat and electricity which can be used for their poly tunnels in the winter. The liquid fertiliser can be used directly in their raised beds for food growing. However, in order to optimise the capacity of the bio-digester, it is important to increase their food growing spaces.

As a friend to UCL Public Engagement Unit, I had been aware of Focus on the Positive for a while but never thought of participating in it for a very simple reason that I have always had a fear of public speaking. However, with the possibility of winning a £2000 cash prize, I decided to give myself a try – not only to help the Calthorpe Project but also to help myself overcome the fear of public speaking.

I made my speech a personal story. Driven by a commitment that university is part of the community, I have been a volunteer and a friend at the Calthorpe Project ever since I first moved into the neighbourhood. I told the audience that this £2000 is pitched to the need for the Calthorpe to buy equipment and materials, both for extending their poly tunnels as well as creating new raised beds for growing food. And this money will also help them to train volunteers to go to the community to collect organic food waste from the households and restaurants to fill in the bio-digester.

I passionately advocated this kind of localised food system as a true beauty of combining science with nature to help create a sustainable community in our own neighbourhood.

I tried to convince the audience that their support will help to make a strong case that growing food in the city productively is not only very possible but can also transform people, place, community and the society.

I shared my witness that over all these years, the Calthorpe Project has have been through a number of big threats and crises, including being closed down. I’m very grateful to learn from the Calthorpe Project, tenaciously never giving up and focusing on the positive – developing a more sustainable food system in London through university-community engagement. I do believe university is part of the community. Together, we’ve become more resilient because we have received all kinds of support within the neighbourhood, but importantly, support from wider community, including each audience member sitting and listening to my story in the room that night.

I was pleased to receive so many interesting queries, suggestions and encouragement from the audience during and after my speech. I was of course even more thrilled that I was voted the runner-up for the £1000 prize.

I felt both proud and happy when I saw new raising beds put in place at the Calthorpe Project with the support of this £1000. We are sowing new seeds in soil as well as in our hearts. More importantly, my story has also seemed to inspire other colleagues at work and members of community to pursuit a genuine and meaningful co-operation between the university and the wider society for developing sustainable food systems in London.

Marina Chang completed her PhD at UCL in 2012, and  currently works as a researcher at both UCL and Coventry University.

Vegetables for Victory: Promoting School Gardens Project

Lizzy Baddeley22 January 2014

Our Wildlife Garden

In the first of our posts about past winners, Mike Fell shares his experience taking part in Focus on the Positive, and how his project took off after the event.

Last year I asked the Focus on the Positive audience to help fund a project to promote school gardens.

In the course of some research I was involved in earlier in the year I’d experienced first-hand the really beneficial role that school gardens can play. I saw children heading home clutching freshly harvested vegetables and feeding hens, and I was given enthusiastic tours of ponds and mini woodlands – all the while surrounded by social housing blocks.

I thought it would be great to win some money to help encourage the development of more school gardens, but I knew that to run a successful project I’d have to partner with the experts – people who actually (literally) get their hands dirty on a day-to-day basis. So I got together with Sophia and Sara at Pooles Park Primary in north London and we talked about the possibilities.

We hit upon the idea of running a series of workshops where classes of children from other nearby schools could come and visit the Pooles Park garden. The children would get a chance to learn a bit about gardening, and the teachers about what it takes to fund and run a successful school garden. Every child would get to take home a plant pot with seeds they had planted, while each school could order a raised bed to help kick off their own project.

Naturally I was pretty nervous about taking part in the event. Not only was I pitching to a pub full of people against many other great ideas, but I was really keen to get the project funded. I think my enthusiasm for it came across, and I was lucky enough to come in second, winning £1000.

Once the money came through, Sophia and Sara jumped into action and arranged the series of workshops. Seven other schools attended (four primary, three secondary, with a combined pupil population of over 4000), with a total of just under 200 pupils and 40 parents and teachers. The money was mostly spent on raised beds (which almost all the attending schools have now received), and one of the schools has already won funding to further develop its own garden.

I’m really pleased with how the project turned out, and the feedback we collected was great. Although I was the one who pitched for the money, the success of the project has really been down to Sophia and Sara at Pooles Park. I hope it will be possible to run the project again in future years.

– Mike Fell, PhD researcher in the UCL Energy Institute