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Two women, one older, planting salad leaf plants from seed trays into a raised bed, at a community centre with other raised beds Two women, one older, planting salad leaf plants from seed trays into a raised bed, at a community centre with other raised beds

Celebrating five years of Incredible Education CIC

By Sarah Ward

We hope that by sharing stories about Incredible Edible groups we can inspire more Incredible activities across the UK and the world.  This story from Incredible Education in Salford shows how the Incredible Edible approach can create a sustainable way to connect communities and spin the three plates.

Incredible Education was set up five years ago yesterday (1st April, 2014) by Ian Bocock and provides learning about food growing to support communities and people’s health and wellbeing in the Salford area.  With his experience as a Further Education lecturer, and in setting up Incredible Edible Salford, Ian saw the potential for starting a new entity which used his experience and the Incredible Edible principles to bring learning about growing, food and the environment to communities in the Salford and Greater Manchester area.

Ian knew he wanted the organisation to be sustainable and not solely reliant on grant funding, so wanted to be able to mix the ways the organisation generated funds but that any profit wasn’t for personal gain and should be reinvested back into the local community.  Ian had his vision, and lots of experience of delivering environment-based education, but wasn’t clear how to register an organisation to put the vision into practice.  There are organisations to provide advice on exactly these legal and technical points, with Ian speaking to business advisors at a local housing association and the local Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) before setting up as Community Interest Company (CIC) – sign up to our website to access our Toolshed section on Legal structures and governing document for ideas of what to think about and who to get advice from when you set up your group.

Older woman planting up salad leaves in a raised bed on a sunny day

Incredible Education has built up sources of funding over the last five years, including for delivering educational services for schools and grants from the local NHS clinical commissioning group for work with older people (here’s a short film about this work).  Incredible Education activities bring people together to create more connected communities and provide a way to discuss how important local food is if we’re interested in our environment.  Each week volunteers come to support the learning that happens at the organisation’s growing sites in Salford.  Ian makes sure that the volunteers are valued and given the opportunities to share their skills and learning, as well as plenty of time to chat with each other and gain that sense of being part of a team doing good things in their community – which includes regular social get togethers, like a Christmas meal.  And as a CIC, Ian can invest money back into the volunteers by offering formal training opportunities which might then lead to paid sessional work either with Incredible Education or with other organisations supporting communities in the local area.  It’s this giving back, to individuals and communities, which keeps Ian motivated.

The success of Incredible Education has been down to some key skills demonstrated by Ian and his team – strong networking and being consistently reliable.  When asked about the organisation’s success, Ian reflects, “We quickly gained a reputation in the area of green and environmental work because we delivered what we said we would, and wouldn’t be afraid to say no to things that didn’t fit with our wider mission or that would have been an over commitment”.

The previous experience of Ian and his other Directors, both in running a business and in management, has led to Incredible Education being able to incrementally extend the range and scale of work it undertakes.  And throughout the last five years, Ian has slowly and consistently built relationships with a range of organisations which has led to the aspirations for the next five years.  Incredible Education will work in partnership with other organisations like a local housing association, the council, other non-profits and a university. The vision is to join up resources and experience, as well as carefully considered community consultation, to develop a community asset which provides a range of health and wellbeing opportunities that will be both sustainable and appropriate to local need.  What’s important here is that organisations which might sometimes be competing for similar opportunities have acknowledged that by working together they can achieve more for local communities than by working individually.

The Incredible Education experience shows that with the right skills, experience and attitude, plus listening to lots of advice and talking to a range of different organisations, the Incredible Edible approach can create a sustainable way to connect communities and spin the three plates – community, learning and business.  Now Ian is using his experience across the North West of England in his role as Regional Facilitator for the Incredible Edible Network, where he supports new and existing Incredible Edible groups to grow and develop.  What’s striking in this story is the importance of developing a vision at the start to help guide decision making as the organisation develops, plus the importance of strong communication skills to support your staff and volunteer team, as well as engage with external organisations – plus of course knowing what your skills are and how to deliver quality experiences which will naturally build your reputation.

If you’re interested in starting an Incredible Edible group, either as a community led group or a more formal organisation, then sign up to our website and have a look at our Getting going resources.  And if you’d like to share the learning from your Incredible Edible experience, then contact us to tell us your story.