Lockdown life: Volunteering and working from home
4 August 2020
Sunday Session at Harmony Gardens - Drone picture by Maxime Fazilleau
On a random Saturday last year, I discovered Blue House Yard in Wood Green, London. This is an unexpected place in North London, close to where I live. A red double-decker has been converted into a board games café and taproom. Small timber work sheds house local businesses selling candles, clothes, jewellery and books.
Blue House Yard and Edible London market - Picture by Maxime Fazilleau
I was curious, so I went to investigate and found there were tables covered with boxes of colourful vegetables and fruits in the middle of the place. I was only passing by, but the seller asked if I wanted to try one of the tomatillos and I could not resist! It was refreshing and spicy at the same time. After a few minutes of conversation, I was so inspired by their story that I ended up buying my veg and fruit from Edible London in Blue House Yard that day.
And I came back!
But this time I discovered fruity chocolates, organic vegetables, pea shoots and jams all organically grown by incubated businesses. After two weeks of loyal shopping, I was invited by Sunny, the energetic and mindful CEO of Edible London (https://ediblelondon.org/), to visit the greenhouse where volunteers of all ages, cultures and background grow some of the organic products. I went, for a simple visit, to volunteer for five hours that afternoon, and was taught about sowing tomatoes seeds and I learnt that they were heritage seeds and only grown organically.
The following week, a friend tells me about Edible London – what are the chances! - and the work they do. Sunny, and his team are not only growing food but also organising cook ups for the Haringey community. A few days every month, they cook and invite people going through housing difficulties to enjoy heart-warming meals and a chat. Before I realised it, I was volunteering and was asked if I could help start a new project which was to create a place where Edible London could and grow more food. Obviously, I accepted.
When COVID-19 started, Edible London was still operating normally. But when the lockdown was announced, Sunny decided to form a small team to prepare hampers for people who could not move from their homes. As I was working full time from home, I decided to help around my working hours – but this time behind my screen. I started looking for volunteers to prepare the hampers and deliver them. And thanks to a networking app here in the UK, we got around 20 recruits in a day!
Today, Edible London is made of about 20 admins, 15 facilitators and a pool of 350 volunteers. We had to train different teams for the integration, write and create processes, online documents and FAQ for volunteers to understand what to do. We operate from two main food hubs in the council of Haringey: Alexandra Palace - the people's Palace - and one of the underground parking spaces of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
But what is it that we are doing? Let me give you a rough idea:
We have teamed up with one of the big vegetables and fruit markets in London and they provide us with a few pallets of unsold food every day, that would go to waste otherwise. We also get food donations from lots of different business that believe in our vision too.
Logistic and Hub!
The amazing logistic team gets the different pallets and redirects them to the food hub where the magic happens. The Quality Team volunteers verify the products. This is a very important part of the process as we need to ensure good quality food goes to the hampers preparation that will be distributed to self-isolated people who cannot afford to go out.
But we use all of the products and so, the food of normal quality goes to different organisations which can cook meals the same day.
Vegetables and fruits that cannot be used to cook can be taken by volunteers or sent to our growing site for compost creation to be used on our growing sites.
Ready to pack?
Our volunteers prepare hampers of good vegetables and fruits mainly that will be handed over to the Council who is managing the distribution. The rest of the food goes for meals to shelters, food banks and key workers. But we also need to keep our hardworking volunteers healthy – and so we all eat together and make sure nothing goes to waste.
Two of my favourite initiatives are the Bikers Community and the Upcycling system.
The Bikers for the Community comes to the Food hub to collect meals and essentials, and take it to the streets of North London, stopping for every houseless person they see.
Our Upcycling initiative involved the creation of furniture and art from the packaging by our volunteers to feel like home. EcoBricks are made and will be used later in one of our growing projects. Volunteers even ran a zero-waste fashion show, where they used packaging to create their outfits.
To go from six to 350 volunteers in ten weeks has been a BIG task – believe me! Many hours and tears have gone into making this happen. Respecting health and safety with the 2m distancing rule and wearing masks did not make it any easier.
But we did it! This adventure has shown me what we can do with an army of volunteers. The energy and motivation are high, and our core team is always ready for a new day.
I found purpose and a community in this very difficult time – being isolated at home alone is not easy. I am glad I joined Edible London and at the same time find solidarity and hope.
Thanks to my previous work experience, I know how to map a process and create communication channels. I also know what it is to be a volunteer and know what to expect from the team. With Cornerstone, I have learnt to communicate effectively – I am a French native – understand the issues fast in order to deploy solution, but most importantly, I have discovered that there is always space to learn, ask questions and be included. Delegating work to new volunteers joining the adventure is my biggest challenge, as trust is important, and it cannot be built in a few hours. But here at Cornerstone we have a culture in which we accept failure as part of our success, and in this instance, I can shadow the teams and let them make mistakes, so they understand the logic behind the processes and so we can all work as a team.
Don’t let others stop you from doing good for the community. Teach them to build a resilient one instead.