Paul and I connected over workwear - probably, and I was sold on his handmade slingshots (legit) and Instagram feed of slingshots-in-popular-places artwork.
More recently, The Whitemoor Garden Project caught my eye and I wanted to learn more from Paul and Michelle.
El: Tell us about The Whitemoor Garden Project
P&M: We took on a derelict plot at Whitemoor Allotments, in inner city Nottingham, during the summer of 2020, and quickly realized as we cleared away the rubbish and overgrowth what a massive space we had (500 sqm), and how much veg we could grow!
It was right at the time when food bank usage was exploding, as people had lost jobs during the pandemic. We’d been well aware of poverty increasing in our city as ten years of government austerity cut welfare spending and took away local council funding, and we thought why not reach out to our local foodbank to offer some help.
The foodbank also runs Nottingham Peoples Pantry, a social supermarket where those on Universal Credit can shop by weight. We started donating our organic veg and it went well, users really enjoyed the access to fresh produce. We also supported a series of Pantry Cooking School classes with fresh veg, to help users into healthier lifestyles and improve cooking skills.
During that first year we did the ‘Food Parcel Challenge’ (living on an emergency food parcel for a week) to raise money for the foodbank, and we also helped out delivering food parcels at Christmas. Those two experiences really reinforced what we already knew, there’s a massive need for more support for the poorest in society.
In 2022 we’ve switched approach to donating Veg Bags: a selection of veg from the garden that can be bought in the Pantry or distributed with that week’s foodbank parcels. Each Veg Bag contains an explainer card telling the recipient what each veg is & how it can be used. This summer we’ve even added a bunch of flowers to the mix; who doesn’t love getting flowers!
We’ve just completed week 14 of donating so we’re on target to smash the 17 weeks we managed in 2021.
El: What inspires and motivates you to work on this project?
P&M: The allotment site where we’re based is in an area of our city ranked in the 10% most deprived areas in England; with one of the highest Universal Credit claimant rates, over half of children living in poverty and a life expectancy 12 years lower than the national average. We don’t want to be in the middle of all that without offering a helping hand.
When we started out, one quote really resonated: “Food Poverty above all is about less or almost no consumption of vegetables”, by Prof Tim Lang from London Centre for Food Policy.
Just because you’re poor you should still have access to fresh veg, but because of lack of provision, food swamps & deserts (look em up!) people don’t get that access and it’s not fair.
We’re inspired by organisations like Project Eats & Urban Tilth in the U.S. who take that veg access to the next level, distributing only organic vegetables in the most deprived areas.
Organic veg shouldn’t only be for posh folks shopping in Waitrose!
El: What's next?
P&M: More of the same. This year we’ve been supplying about 25 veg bags per week to the foodbank , that’s only giving 10% of the foodbank users a service. We want to do more and are working on ways to get the numbers up.
We don’t really want Foodbanks to exist so we’re doing a bit more ‘campaigning’ - highlighting how bad things are, joining the fight for change.
Next year we’re going to start some Guerilla Veg Gardens on vacant bits & bobs of land where people can pick what they want for free.
El: What message would you like to share with the world?
P&M: Fight Poverty Not The Poor!
To learn more, give Paul and Michelle a follow on Instagram.
Paul and Michelle have shared these links for you to learn more:
Project Eats: @Projecteats
Urban Tilth: @urbantilth