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Seeing Failure as Success

By Sara Venn

Setting up and maintaining any community project is always a huge amount of work, and that work is ongoing and time consuming.

For Incredible Edible groups, when we meet up and discuss the joys and issues around our groups, maintaining that initial excitement and managing the ongoing work is often a cause for concern from groups, and sometimes it becomes too much, and the groups makes a decision to close. But sometimes it is just ‘time’, time to move on, time to do new things. From the wisdom of ancient writers to the rhythm of nature we are giving clues that nothing is permanent, all things play their part in the ongoing process of growth. Often there’s a sense of failure when this happens but we always congratulate anyone who has taken the brave step of beginning to connect their community, and once a member of the Incredible Edible family, always a member as far as we are concerned. So we wanted to share some experiences, without mentioning any names, and look at how we celebrate whilst entering a time of sadness when groups decide to close.

There are a few danger signs that we are aware of when groups begin, which should be mentioned. Groups that start with a funding bid, a member of staff, or as a local authority or other large organisation initiative, are the groups that we have found are most likely to fail. Over the years groups like this have begun but as they have had a paid leader all too often the community engagement fails to allow for that real, grassroots beginning that Incredible Edible is so well known for, and after the initial funding has run out, it ends up as a three year funded project that has little ongoing effect. That’s why over the last year we have invested in around 15 organisations through our Catalyst Partner Programme to support them to enable groups to grow who are self-identifying, self-organising and self-governing.

It’s important to realise when beginning a group, that Incredible Edible isn’t a project, but a change in thinking, and a new way of living life, putting community, skill sharing and local economies at the core of all that we do. For this groups who come together and create change in their communities, working with the resource they have, and finding the local skills they need whilst sharing their time with friends and neighbours, see becoming Incredible Edible as a life change that supports a better way of living and a healthier environment, which in itself keeps people engaged. Along with that, an excitement at the possibilities of what they can achieve next, working within that community, empowers people to be braver, and more courageous, and truly focus on creating a kinder world to leave behind them. It’s not about volunteer engagement, but grassroots community action which involves and supports everyone.

However, even when a group is truly grass roots, there is always risk involved and groups can and do find it all too much at times. It may be that the political will or even interest is missing in that area. It might be that whilst a core group are determined to make something work, that slowly that group deteriorates due to people’s inevitably complicate lives. It only takes someone to move, someone to have a new baby or a new job that takes a longer commute, or for someone to fall ill, or just not feel that they can be involved any longer, and groups can easily collapse or have a moment where they need to take a break. And that is fine. Rather than concentrating on the perceived failure, look back at the successes, the crops and harvests, the people who have enjoyed the change , the land that has been well cared for and loved and understand that change won’t disappear. People will recognise the change that was brought and once the idea of this change is taken onboard by a community, it often rearises, in a different yet similar guise, close by. We must also celebrate all those who have been involved in the work of the group. Those who have learnt and shared new skills. Those who have come along and offered their specific skills and supported the group in their own way; the website makers, cake bakers, cooks and preservers who have helped along the way. The young people and children who’s first experience of food has been through Incredible Edible, and for whom food is changed forever, and has become something to enjoy in a community setting. The people who have just stopped for a chat, who’s isolation has been made better for those few words and a connection with people and with land. None of this is lost. And all must be celebrated.

But most of all the success must be seen in what happens next. Once a community activist, always a community activist and we hear tales of people going on to start social enterprises, to become small producers and farmers, to attend further education courses and far, far more. And when we connect with them they tell us it was being a part of that Incredible Edible group that made them realise they were looking for a different way, a new way of thinking and a different life. They were looking to become real food citizens, community facilitators and change makers. And that is what turns every perceived failure into a huge success!