Land Unlocked: Food Builds Community

By Jane Campbell

29th June 2021

To address the climate emergency, there is an urgent need to devolve power to local communities, so that they can adapt and build resilience, creating lasting change and better places to live too

Community-led projects, especially those centred on food and land, can all deliver carbon reductions, while also rewarding people with a lower cost of living, and the experience and confidence to work together for even greater change.

ffinlo Costain speaks to James Goodman, Director of Partnerships and Learning at Local Trust, Bryony Boyle at Selby Big Local and Chris Blake, the catalyst behind Project Skyline in the Brecon Beacons.

Read on for extracts from the podcast - or listen now.

What they said

What can we learn about making change from Big Local?

“It is a bold experiment in trusting people with power, resources and time to shape their own communities - and we’re learning that it works. These are real communities, more deprived than the average community in the UK.” - James Goodman, Local Trust

“You live in a place, you understand that place and the lives of your neighbours … that lived experience enables you to have a view on what solutions are appropriate to the issues in your area.” - Bryony Boyle, Selby Big Local

“Local people understand the problems and solutions - but they also see things in a different way to remote agencies like government, which have a tendency to silo issues as environment or social etc, but when you live the reality you see how everything is interconnected, you get a much more holistic way of working.” - James Goodman, Local Trust

“Big Local matches that lived experience with funding and support … We need to create [more of] these platforms where communities can participate on their own terms and their lived experience is valued equally to the professional input.” - Bryony Boyle, Selby Big Local

The UK needs to make big changes within an ambitious time frame on issues like climate change - can we afford to wait for communities to decide to prioritise these things?

“I think we can’t afford not to wait. … It’s not a question of bringing communities with us, it’s a question of redesigning systems so that communities are at the heart of creating that change. Without that we’re just skirting round the issue.” - James Goodman, Local Trust

“Climate is the big issue of the day, but … only a minority are talking about it in their work plans. But the things that Big Local areas are delivering align with the things you would want to see to transition to a net zero economy - like growing food. It’s not explicitly around climate, but it is climate aligned. … You’re building the kinds of communities we need to navigate the transitions - social resilience, powerful communities”. - James Goodman, Local Trust

What is the community paradigm, and how can it speed change?

“Somewhere around the 1980s we shifted out of a state paradigm, where we looked to the government to solve problems, to one where we looked to the market to solve problems - and that’s probably where we still are. Now, demand for public services are up and resources are down. So this current way of doing things just cannot sustain itself. A much more efficient way of doing things would be to shift to communities to shape those solutions, in partnership with local businesses and local government. It’s a community-first mindset change.” - James Goodman, Local Trust

"It starts with public service delivery but it extends across the levelling up agenda and the climate crisis, food system transition - it’s a vision for a new and radical way of doing things. We’re discovering how place-based problems are … so you need a place-based response. We need to devolve with determination. - James Goodman, Local Trust

How is the community first approach being applied in UK nations?

"There are now over 200 communities in Scotland who own productive land, which they can use for forestry, for tourism, for energy generation. [In Wales] we’re working in the old post-industrial coal mining areas where the hills are now covered in publicly-owned forestry, but which have very little economic or cultural or social connection with the local communities. So we asked - would communities like control over these areas? Are there sustainable business models for them? Would communities do a better job for nature? Are there good governance models? And the answer to all of these was yes. We concluded that local people are the best stewards of landscape, and of place." - Chris Blake, Project Skyline

"We’re now in the pilot stage. But it’s a model which could be applied everywhere. It can be done with all communities, all forms of land." - Chris Blake, Project Skyline

What role does and play in community resilience?

“Over the last 50 years, decisions about land have moved into boardrooms and national governments, they’ve gone further and further away from the locality … and barely consulting with local communities. This all adds up - we’re now trying to bring back control to those people most impacted.” - Chris Blake, Project Skyline

“And naturally, people want a balance. They don’t just want productivity. Yes they want jobs, but they also want a better place for nature, better flood prevention, better carbon capture. And these are all the things that a local community - with multiple values - can give you, that a public or private corporation, pursing a single value, cannot.” “This all adds up - we’re trying to bring back control to those people most impacted.” - Chris Blake, Project Skyline

What part can government play in fostering resilient communities?

“The Future Generations (Wales) Act has been essential for helping us be listened to by public bodies and land managers - it enshrines obligations on public bodies to balance multiple goals. Just as importantly it enshrines five ways of working - including long-term, partnership, the right thing at the right scale. We’re building on these principles and applying them to local communities.” - Chris Blake, Project Skyline

What’s next for Selby and its connection to the countryside around it?

“We’re in a rural district, and yet a lot of the people we work with have limited exposure to and experience of that countryside. Selby Community Fridge was launched back in January to tackle food waste … and we want it to be a step to something bigger - as a catalyst to help our community think about where food comes from and think about access to food. Being a rural district, there’s lots of opportunities to build better connections with local farmers and link up different parts of the system. If you think about climate change and sustainability and community resilience, they’re all part of the same jigsaw.“ - Bryony Boyle, Selby Big Local

How does food build community, and how can we use it to build resilience.

“The work that we have done with FFCC shows that working with food is a way of building community, it's a lens through which we can strength communities. ... What we now need is trust and a mindset shift that needs to take place across society - in business and in government - that it's ok to trust people to take decisions that will shape their own lives. We then need to create the conditions and invest in the foundations that allow these communities to thrive, make decisions, organise, create enterprise. Amazing things can then be achieved." - James Goodman, Local Trust

Land Unlocked is a co-production between FFCC and the Farm Gate podcast, and you can subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Spotify, Breaker, and Google Podcasts. Join us, and our podcast host ffinlo, in conversation on Twitter @ffc_commission and @ffinlocostain