Growing connections: food leadership in Wales

Earlier this Spring, Food Sense Wales brought together a range of individuals – all of whom are involved with different aspects of food citizenship and leadership in Wales – for two days of training, networking and knowledge sharing.

This ‘Good Food Gathering’ brought together the Wales My Food Community cohort; Sustainable Food Places co-ordinators and Veg Advocates, meaning that many of Wales’ active community food leaders were able to meet in person and exchange ideas and experiences as well as learning more about Wales’ food policy landscape.  It was also an opportunity to learn more about Cultivate – an organisation in Newton involved with all three food programmes – and visit the community garden in the town.

My Food Community is a UK-wide network that enables good food champions to learn, connect and take action.  Run by Food For Life Get Togethers, My Food Community offers a programme of activities to bring together people who champion food that is good for climate, nature and health.

The My Food Community programme is designed to inspire, enable and support participants to build knowledge; access networks, and gain resources to organise impactful good food activities.  It allows those taking part to connect with others who advocate for good food and encourages them to take action to lead positive change around good food in their community.

Now nearing the end of its first year, the programme has mostly taken place virtually but the ‘Good Food Gathering’ that took place in Newtown brought the Wales cohort together and introduced them to other ‘Good Food Champions’ working across the length and breadth of the nation.

“Meeting the My Food Community cohort in person after months of Zoom sessions was both refreshing and inspiring,” said Chris Nottingham, Sustainable Food Places co-ordinator in Blaenau Gwent and a member of the Wales My Food Community cohort. “Hearing everyone’s Community Action Projects taking shape has sparked greater ambition and belief in my own project.  We were able to share our experiences as coordinators which led to a cross pollination of ideas that has benefitted my own work and my sustainable food place.”

As well as learning about each other’s food projects, attendees also learnt more about the political context in Wales with Food Sense Wales delivering a session on political structures, food policy context and advocacy in Wales.

This was followed by an ideas development session that enabled My Food Communities participants, Sustainable Food Places co-ordinators and Veg Advocates to reflect on the work that they’re already doing and how their projects could compliment others going on across Wales.

Sustainable Food Places co-ordinators lead the work of local food partnerships while Veg Advocates are volunteers who help deliver Peas Please’s mission in their communities, encouraging more people to eat more veg – all of whom are actively engaged in food related activities at a community level.

The second day of the gathering gave Sustainable Food Places co-ordinators the opportunity to meet each other, share their individual challenges and opportunities and discuss how the programme is being delivered in their areas.

“I really valued meeting the SFP Wales network in person in Newtown and came away with the feeling that I wasn’t alone,” said Sam Evans, SFP co-ordinator in Rhondda Cynon Taf.  “It was so rewarding to hear about where other members are in the journey and sharing how older partnerships have already overcome the challenges that newer ones are experiencing. The importance of that little chat whilst getting a coffee or between sessions is something that cannot be replicated online.”

Pearl Costello, SFP co-ordinator in Cardiff added:  “ I’m delighted that there is now a strong Sustainable Food Places contingent in Wales. Meeting other Wales co-ordinators in person was invaluable for gaining inspiration and sharing our experiences. It also really helped me to firm up a number of ideas and projects I’m working on. I hope that we can have more regular meet ups.”

The opportunity to connect with others involved in both the Sustainable Food Places programme and My Food Community was the most rewarding aspect for Louise Denham, SFP co-ordinator in the Vale of Glamorgan.  “A lot of my work recently has involved focused hours at the desk, so to be able to meet in-person to share learning, experiences and the cross-pollination of ideas with others on a similar journey left me feeling re-energized and inspired. I think these kinds of events are invaluable in driving forward the good food movement across Wales.”

The two day gathering was organised and facilitated by Hannah Norman, Wales Community Food Manager at Food Sense Wales and was a way of bringing together those working across many of the food-related programmes managed by Food Sense Wales in Wales.

“One of the challenges the food and farming sector faces is people, projects and programmes working in siloes rather than taking a whole system approach,” said Hannah.  “We’re often so busy addressing an immediate issue, or focusing on a specific project, that we don’t have time to bring in alternative voices and actors working in the wider food system.  Food Sense Wales aims to drive forward a cross-sector approach to the food system in Wales, working with communities, organisations, policymakers and Government across Wales to create a food and farming system that is good for people and good for the planet.”

“Cross programme collaboration can not only speed up action through knowledge and resource sharing, but can spark innovative approaches to long standing issues. Our gathering in Newtown was evidence of this, presenting a chance for people involved with ‘good food activities’ to learn from each other, and an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic work that is happening across Wales through these various programmes,” she added. “Our Sustainable Food Places Coordinators, My Food Community cohort and Veg Advocates left the event feeling inspired and motivated, with a new support network to aid their future work.”