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Keep It Local! Part Two - Community.

community, local issues, local business, local food, Bristol, Bath

We’ve all heard tell of the days when our parents wouldn’t think of locking their front doors and gossiping over the fence was the norm. Once we all looked out for one another; now we all live in our safe, suburban barricades, hardly ever speaking to our neighbors. The out-of-town store has claimed more victims than those boarded-up shops you can see in every main street, and the loss of local shopping districts has been one of the chief causes of the erosion of traditional communities. Yet, as in the move back towards local stores, many individuals and groups have realized that to instill some community spirit back into Bath and Bristol’s worst-hit areas you have to try and rebuild people’s pride in those very same communities.

For many impoverished areas, regeneration has to start with the basics, like food. The Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HHEAG), a community development project managed by a committee of local residents, offers a variety of schemes including classes for pregnant women and young families, and healthy eating classes for people with diet-related illnesses. The group also run a food co-operative, Food For All, improving access to affordable, healthy food for local residents; a ‘sow and grow’ project encouraging people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, and a community market garden which supplies Food For All as well as other local outlets.

Food For All has been helping to feed people living or working in the Hartcliffe and Withywood areas for the last 15 years. These have been described as 'food deserts' for their lack of healthy food outlets, and suffer from high levels of social deprivation; health workers have also noted the link between social depravation, poor diet and illness there. Originally bulk-buying whole foods which they bagged down and sold on to members, last October the co-operative opened their small shop to the public, so that they can now offer affordable, locally-produced food to a wider range of people. “It all started with a few local people,” says Dave Richards, Community Development Worker for HHEAG. “Now we have about 200 households, that’s approximately 750 members. A lot of our veg comes from the Greens-Hartcliffe Community Market Garden – we’ve even got fresh, locally grown salad leaves from the poly tunnels there. We’ve been working with local residents to regenerate three allotments and produce food to sell in the co-operative. In terms of food miles, the nearest allotment is 300 yards away, and as they bring the veg down by bike trailer and all the waste is composted and goes back there, it’s about as environmentally-friendly as you can get!

“For years we were just open to members, but now we’re at the stage where we can open up to the wider public. Our priority will always be our membership, but people from outside of the BS13 area can now come and buy from the shop. Part of the reason is that we want to become more sustainable and get to the stage where we’re getting less funding. We don’t want to make a profit, just cover our own costs from the sale of our goods. It’s about local people providing their own resources.” Shopper Kathryn Jefferson agrees: “They enable me to buy local, organic whole foods at very reasonable prices, and they go out of their way to accommodate. They are a God-send! They're the only health food shop in the area and, as I have no transport, a low income and a three-year old in tow, I wouldn't be able to buy the kinds of food and products I feel passionately about if it wasn't for them.”

Regeneration encompasses all sorts of ideas, from recycling through to making new technologies available to those who would otherwise be unable to afford them. Chew Magna’s Go Zero project offers a Free cycle service, where you can off-load things that you may no longer need but which might be of use to someone else, while in Easton the Bristol Wireless Network co-operative are dishing out recycled computers and developing free-access broadband to supply people who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide – the gap created when socially disadvantaged communities cannot access new technologies. The internet has become such an integral part of the way we communicate and educate, and Bristol Wireless are providing a local, high speed wireless computer network to serve their immediate community. The group are involved in a number of other projects and initiatives, such as providing free computers and internet access to a whole new year's intake at Bannerman Road School and providing training and a computer drop-in staffed by volunteers five days a week at the Easton Community Centre. In January they relaunched their PC giveaway project, distributing 15 recycled and refurbished machines to local residents.

Improving communities also means looking after the urban streetscape which forms them: just ask Architect George Ferguson who, as owner of the Tobacco Factory, has played a major role in the regeneration of South Ville. He redeveloped the site to provide a theatre, restaurant and bar, creative media workspace and apartments. The Tobacco Factory project has become a model of economical and sustainable urban regeneration, and in South Ville traditional shops rub shoulders with smart bars and community food stores. George is also one of the people behind the Bristol Brewing Company and Beer Factory, which opened on the site of the defunct Ashton Gate Brewery. “People should think positively about potential uses,” He recently told Venue. “What I’m interested in is that buildings add to the cultural mix of the area. One should take a look at the original use of any building as a starting point for its future development.”

Over in Bath, registered charity Envolve is pioneering new approaches to help people live in more sustainable ways, with more than a decade’s experience of working with businesses, community groups and students to promote awareness of the relationship between people and the planet. From local initiatives like the Food For Life fair, Bath City Farm’s Healthy Living week and setting up community food co-operatives through to the Time banks Plus scheme, where people in South West Bath share time and skills to help their neighbors and are given a time credit to 'buy' help from someone else, or exchange it for training opportunities or services from local businesses or organizations. “The idea came out of a need identified in the community by people wanting to help others but needing a vehicle to make that happen,” says Kate Allport of Envolve. “A group of organizations got together to carry out consultation and what came out of that was that people wanted to boost their skills and confidence, and also build community cohesion – bridging the generation gap between the young and the old. You help a neighbor and, when you need it, another neighbor will help you. We’re delighted with the support we’ve been getting from a whole range of local organizations and businesses; people can get cinema tickets, go paintballing or even get their dog walked. There’s a great flexibility about it.”

This week Envolve open a Community Café at Southdown Methodist Church Centre, to provide a lively meeting place in the White way and Southdown area every Tuesday and enable local people to get involved in training and volunteering opportunities. Community Cafes (including the Wild Goose Café in St Paul’s and Juicy Blitz in Lawrence Weston) not only support local producers, but also subsidize affordable food in the neighborhood, train staff and provide a valuable local resource. Envolve are also coordinating Healthy Living Week (from March 29), with 25 local organizations coming together to provide a wide variety of events from kick-boxing to food preparation. “The Community Café has older and younger people and people with learning difficulties; a real mix coming together to play a positive part in their community,” Kate adds. “The idea is that the community can meet its own needs. People tell us that getting involved in Time banks Plus has changed their lives; it’s been a really positive opportunity for people, and we’d love to make the scheme available to other parts of the city.”

Click here to read Keep it Local! Part One - Local Food

Published: 2006-04-21
Author: Darryl W. Bullock

About the author or the publisher
I am a freelance writer based in the South West of the UK. I specialise in a number of different subjects: food and drink; lesbian and gay issues; music and film; local events and human interest stories.

As well as freelancing I write on a regular basis for several newspapers and magazines in the UK as well as a couple of specialist international publications and several websites.

Examples of my work can be seen at

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