Making connections: reflections on our community engagement work in Plymouth

With our Innovate UK funded project having drawn to a close at the end of April, we reflect on our community engagement work to date, featuring cargo bikes, typewriters and more…

November 2020 – April 2021

Sustenance’s aims for the community engagement activities were: 

  1. Making people, community organisations and businesses aware of our research 
  2. Encouraging people to share their experiences and aspirations around accessing local food in Plymouth 
  3. Facilitating citizens from different strands of society and food producers and other stakeholders to take part in targeted Sustenance surveys:
  • Individual Plymouth residents and their experiences and understanding around accessing local food
  • People in and around local food businesses to take part in the stakeholders survey
  1. Opening up opportunities for growers and producers to provide food into the city
  2. Creating opportunities for people to access local food through purchasing or growing, foraging, harvesting, producing, sharing 

We designed all our events to keep everyone safe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic challenge.  Therefore we could not sustain our successful physical Sustenance Hub operations or deliver the large community events to which we had aspired.

The timeline

In December 2020, Tess Wilmot and Carmen Wong worked together to create a pop-up physical Sustenance food hub at The Plot in Union Street, Plymouth.  The pilot ran three days per week for three weeks bringing local food and produce to Stonehouse via the Tamar Valley Food Hub and other producers with a drop-off for producers and collection point for local people on Friday afternoons.  An extra drop-off day for the Tamar Valley Food Hub was organized on the Wednesday before Christmas in response to demand.

Sustenance Local Food Hub
Credit: Tess Wilmot

“We wanted to create an inviting space to encourage conversations about food and make local food accessible to more people.  There was a large display of local apples, plus apple juice, dried apples, squashes, herbs and plants, along with a wonderful array of Jarsquad chutney, jams and preserves.  Being a drop off point for Good Earth Growers veg boxes on the Thursdays and Tamar Valley Food Hub more diverse orders from their on-line customers on the Fridays created a real buzz.   Carmen was able to chat with Food Hub visitors about her experimental micro food co-op, which offers British grown flour, grains and beans supplied by Hodmedod’s to subscribing members.  Nudge Community Builders’ alternative shopping arcade, The Plot, was an ideal setting for this.  “Food Plymouth has aspired to have a physical ‘shopfront’ for a long time.  It was lovely to experiment and trial some ideas at The Plot while supporting the aims of the Sustenance project which align perfectly with Plymouth’s drive to achieve Sustainable Food Places Silver award standard”

Tess Wilmot, Food Plymouth

Visitors to the hub were invited to take part in a survey designed to identify the barriers to buying local food in return for opportunities to obtain vouchers to shop at the Tamar Valley Food Hub.  Plymouth Food Aid Network coordinator Ayshea Cross was a masterful connector and helped Sustenance Partners link up with people in less affluent circumstances who were each offered a special local food voucher in return for sharing their experiences and views around obtaining local food.  

Plans to continue the Sustenance Food Hub into the New Year were halted by the third national COVID lockdown, meaning that the face-to-face community engagement was put on hold while Sustenance concentrated on online stakeholder surveys with people involved in the food system.  

In April 2021, as COVID lockdown restrictions started to ease, a nine day celebration ‘week’ was organized to mark the end of this Innovate UK funded six-month research and development project. 

The aim was to highlight and celebrate what Sustenance and its network of partners had been doing and to cement beneficial connections.  

The celebrations included:

A pop-up Seed, Seedling and Plant Swap at The Plot, building on the good relations built in December.  

Borrowing an electric cargo bike from Bikespace CIC for the week and undertaking a Seed Store cycle tour.  This involved visiting different venues across the city including The Plot and the Talk Shop in Stonehouse, the Village Hub in Stoke and Freedom Fields Park in Lipson as well as the city centre, Jar the plastic free shop and the Hoe.  

Tess and Sean with the Sustenance cargo bike
Tess Wilmot (Food Plymouth / Sustenance Partners) and Sean O’Neill (Good Earth Growers) with the Sustenance cargo bike.

JarSquad’s first on-line #JarWash event, creating a fun exchange of ideas and moral support as they scrubbed off the most tricky labels ready for the JarSquad assemblies over the forthcoming summer.  These events will include making jams, chutney and other goodies from locally harvest food and saving produce which might otherwise be wasted.

Credit: Melissa Smith

The Talk Shop session with Cliik Community Benefit Society – conversations and mapping of the local food system and harvesting ideas to help this new community space become a focus for local food distribution.  

An on-line Celebration Showcase event, including numerous partners and participating stakeholders and Tess and Carmen live from the Talk Shop.

Two evenings at The Village Hub, Stoke.  Carmen had been volunteering at the Hub and designed these events to engage the people who have been purchasing the veg boxes that Good Earth Growers have been delivering there every Thursday.  

Food stories on a typewriter
Credit: Carmen Wong

All the events were well received and helped to created beneficial connections and links between individuals, community groups and businesses. You can watch our short film here for a snapshot.

Credit: FotoNow CIC

We raised the profile of the Sustenance partnership and successfully gathered research material via the surveys and other engagement methods.  This series of events caught the spirit of the fascinating Sustenance Partners collaboration involving Food Plymouth and Mutual Credit Services, supported by the Open Food Network and Resonanace.  The resulting improved understanding of local food supply and demand will benefit all involved in the sustainable food movement.

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