Green Adventure, London
project at a glance
Green Adventure has set up food growing and other environmental regeneration projects in inner city London, fully involving local people, including minority and disadvantaged groups.
Southwark LETS scheme; Oval Regeneration Programme.
Office at Camberwell, S.E. London. Projects at Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham
Started January 1995, ongoing
Food Production; Democracy & Participation; Economic Development.
Green Adventure (GA) has two main aims which it ties together in its work: empowering and regenerating the local community to improve quality of life, and enhancing the environment. It works particularly with the socially and economically disadvantaged, and runs innovative initiatives which enable people to learn about sustainability and get involved in practical projects.
Many of its projects focus on growing food in urban areas using permaculture design principles. Permaculture is a practical approach to designing sustainable environments to provide for our essential needs, based on learning from natural cycles which are inherently sustainable and energy efficient. As part of this approach GA is involved in developing environmental initiatives (e.g. recycling) and in promoting community involvement and sustainable regeneration more generally. It places great importance on maintaining working links with other organisations in order to achieve these aims more effectively.
Green Adventure was started by two ex play workers concerned about city kids having no links with the natural world and food growing in particular. The first year was spent organising trips to permaculture farms on a voluntary basis and setting up an organisation to further this work. Early work on Local Agenda 21 in London was a strong influence, with its focus on sustainability bringing together social, environmental and economic aspects of local development. From the beginning the emphasis has been very much on practical work in the community. Green Adventure is involved in running or supporting a wide range of projects. The main ones are outlined below:
Community Orchards and Gardens - an orchard has been established at Camberwell Green growing several varieties of fruit as well as herbs and flowers. Most of the funding needed was raised by local residents, and city people of all ages and backgrounds have become directly involved in food production and conservation. The orchard functions as much as a community centre as a producer of fruit, with monthly Orchard Days and community barbecues. Leaf Gardens, a second orchard, is being established on previously derelict land in Peckham. Help was also given to local residents in rescuing a condemned greenhouse site in Brockwell Park. A 3 year Lottery grant has recently been approved for residents to develop this with GA as community greenhouses and a garden centre. A number of other garden sites of various sizes are being developed, 13 in total at the end of 1997. The total area under cultivation is around 4 acres.
Green Ventures ‘Organic Box Scheme’ - this provides fresh, organically grown fruit and vegetables to local people. Customers pay Ł7/week (or Ł5 + 2 units of LETS currency) and in return receive a box of mixed produce according to what is in season. A home delivery service (by bicycle and trailer!) is available, and efforts are made to ensure affordability for those on low incomes. Much of the work to run the scheme is carried out by members who are able to get free organic produce or LETS currency in exchange for their work.
Recycling Initiatives - have only taken place on a small scale due to limited resources. They include collecting compost from households on the box scheme and taking it to the community orchards. Door-to-door collections of paper and aluminium are made on estates - these were started by young people to raise funds for the community orchards. Help is also given to local tenant associations to set up recycling collection banks on estates. Funds were raised in 1997 to employ a Recycling Co-ordinator one day per week for ten months to expand the recycling schemes.
Green Adventure Youth Action - a funded play scheme was organised in summer 1997, after two years of voluntary schemes, to ‘mobilise the vision and energy of youth towards sustainability’. Twenty children took part in a large number of educational trips, plus sessions organised around various food-related topics. Other informal youth activities take place at various times.
Oval Regeneration Programme (ORP) - Green Adventure was one of the organisations instrumental in setting up this umbrella organisation, which to date comprises 18 local community groups interested in developing and implementing regeneration proposals for the Kennington Oval area. The keystone of the scheme is to establish the consultation connection with local people before the development of regeneration proposals. ORP seeks to help members of the local community become more actively involved in regeneration proposals, and to ensure that proposals contribute to sustainable development (by meeting local community needs and improving the environment). A particular focus is to actively encourage the inclusion of under-represented groups, including young people, members of black and ethnic minority groups and disabled people.
Structure, Management and Way of Working
Green Adventure is a registered charity with nine trustees who are also on the Management Committee. The Committee currently comprises 13 people of various ages, backgrounds and experience (73% are women, 27% under 30 years old, 40% from ethnic minorities, and 67% on low income or unemployed). There is a dynamic mix of very experienced and first time Committee members, and management training takes place throughout the year. Meetings are held monthly. There is also a full time co-ordinator (made up of two part time posts), a team of 3 part time staff funded for 3 years by a National Lottery Grant, and a part time recycling co-ordinator. All other input to the projects has been on a voluntary or a payment-in-kind basis.
GA strives to be an inclusive and open organisation with real community participation. It has a strong commitment to equality of access and opportunity and is effectively managed by the users of its projects. There are currently around 200 members of GA who pay a nominal Ł1 membership fee and elect the Management Committee. Planning and Evaluation Workshops are held every six months, usually week-ends away, to which all core people are invited, including regular volunteers, staff and Committee members. GA has a commitment to involving young people in the planning and management of projects, and are becoming involved in the New Deal as a placement provider.
GA are working to achieve a ‘mosaic’ of regeneration. Instead of working on one site for a particular community they are operating across a wide area, finding pockets of space and turning them into a network of linked and sustainable projects. Wherever possible, GA look to generate sustainable business opportunities for unemployed people. Their role is often to act as a catalyst in assisting projects to start up, helping to ensure they are participatory, and setting the framework for their continuation. Each project has its own management group co-ordinated by the project workers. These have two representatives from the main Management Committee. GA believes in training and investment in people so that they can export ideas and expertise to others. They are open to responding to community needs - the summer playscheme is an example of this, and last year a nappy recycling scheme was researched by a local resident.
overall results & benefits
Green Adventure believes that creating sustainable communities is achievable, even in inner city communities, and that there is an increasing willingness to contribute to this process. All of the GA projects tie into each other in supportive ways to maximise benefits. For instance the box scheme is starting to be supplied by food from the gardens project, and the LETS scheme benefits from the box scheme as it attracts new members and stimulates trade. Deliveries of food are combined with collection of recyclables and compostables which are used in the community orchards, and income from recycling is used to buy trees for the orchards, which in turn provide an ideal resource for community involvement and development. All of the projects are inherently educational and generate enthusiasm - and more projects - in turn.
Although many of the projects are new, it is possible to quantify some of the results achieved. For instance in relation to the box scheme:
In 1997, Green Ventures supplied over 3,200 bags of fruit and vegetables to over 120 local people, bringing in revenue of approximately Ł19,000 plus over 4,000 LETS.
About 50% of LETS members are on the box scheme, a big contributor to LETS trading.
People on a low income are actively targeted - a recent survey showed that 37% of box scheme members are unemployed, while only 35% are in full time employment.
Over the year 37 members of the scheme have been regularly involved in running it. They are paid in produce or in LETS currency, and receive appropriate training.
Home delivery helps members who are housebound or parents with young children.
Total volunteer input to GA projects in 1997 was 2,587 hours, which was valued at Ł12,935 (using Ł5 per hour). Many volunteers have gone on to get jobs. Green Adventure has won the 1998 BURA Best Practice in Community Regeneration Award.
finance and resources
Major costs and the resources that meet them include:
3 part-time National Lotteries Charities Board funded staff for 3 years at Ł40,480 per year.
A Transco funded part-time Recycling Co-ordinator for 10 months at Ł4,000.
Southwark Borough Council funded the essential core costs of the summer playscheme (Ł1,204).
Income from box scheme - turnover Ł19,028 + 4,126 LETS (equivalent to Ł23,154 in total).
Other grants, donations and sales in 1997 came to just over Ł6,300.
None of the sites are owned by GA but no rent charges are currently being made. Land is typically made available by Local Authorities or by private owners.
Care is taken to ensure individual projects are financed separately so that they could run themselves if GA was to lose its funding. As far as possible projects are designed to be income generating and therefore sustainable financially.
The food growing side of GA is set to expand - two more school projects and another greenhouse site are planned, and there are hopes to convert the Peckham Lido site into a large walled orchard. Current funding for the box scheme ends in December 1998, after which it will be run independently. Funding is being sought for a box scheme development worker to help other schemes get going. There are plans for the further development of household recycling schemes, as well as a community business to collect recyclables from events/festivals. Other projects include development of a permaculture training course, and the conversion of a semi-derelict warehouse into an energy-efficient community centre as part of the ORP. The building may become GA’s new base. Funding has also been agreed for a part-time youth worker from BBC Children in Need. More generally, links with similar organisations outside the immediate area are growing.
lessons learned and evaluation
Volunteer input has been vital to Green Adventure, which started off as a purely volunteer run project and has gradually built up its income generation and fund-raising capacity.
Focusing on practical work based on local needs and ideas has helped to ensure community participation. This has been further helped by a culture of openness and inclusivity, commitment to equality of opportunity, and a broad base of management committee members and supporters.
Involving young people in all aspects of the organisation and project work has been essential, both to engage fully with the community and to benefit from youthful energy and enthusiasm.
Having a mixture of activities and links between them has led to greater efficiency and success. Links with other like-minded organisations are important for networking and generating support.
The economic viability of projects is considered to be very important. GA acts mainly as a catalyst, setting up projects to run independently. This helps to avoid dependence on a central organisation and results in projects that are more likely to become financially sustainable.
A conventional cost benefit analysis of GA’s activities would probably show they are some way from financial self-sufficiency overall, although the Ł23,000 equivalent income from the box scheme more than covers associated costs. Such analysis, however, misses the less tangible benefits that stem from GA’s work - including community cohesion, regeneration, informal training, and environmental benefits. Recognising such benefits, and the availability of finance to support them, are therefore key replicability issues. Others include:
Having a relevant local organisation, or a pool of able and motivated volunteers, can be essential to get things moving, as this provides not only labour and enthusiasm, but an organisation that can submit bids for funding and project proposals. In GA’s case, minimal resources were needed to start up and to cover basic costs, but this investment has allowed activity to mushroom.
Working towards self-sufficiency is vital, but not easy. Volunteer support, and links into initiatives like LETS, New Deal, and regeneration schemes can help, especially in the short term.
Having been keen to be involved in New Deal, and hoping that this might finance a Volunteer Co-ordinator, the way it is financed has caused problems. Payments to placement organisations haven’t met expectations, yet young and inexperienced volunteers need to be supervised and supported without additional staff. This impacts on time and resources and is a service provided to New Deal rather than a benefit received from it.
Much of GA’s work seeks to combine sustainable development and employment goals. It is early days, but many such opportunities have been identified - these will exist elsewhere too.
- GA’s inclusive and accessible management style helps to engender community ownership and could offer lessons to some regeneration partnerships that struggle to gain community input.
Thanks to Stefania Strega for information and assistance with the preparation of this case study
Nick Hutchinson, Forum for the Future. This is a Forum for the Future Local Economy Programme case study.