For many people the phrase “volunteering’ has some negative connotations, but across the Incredible Edible movement thousands of volunteers are creating real change in their communities.
Many groups use the phrase community gardener rather than focusing on negativity, but whatever the name used, ordinary people are making the world an incredible place, sharing skills and supporting local economies.
Incredible Edible Wakefield might never have been formed if it wasn’t for volunteering. When Andy Austerfield, who founded the group, took a break from running his own Company in order to get a better work life balance he started volunteering at a walled community garden once a week. As well as getting some exercise and fresh air and helping them grow fruit and vegetables he also learning a few new skills on the way. This led to an opportunity in a local churchyard where he and other local residents gave their time to turn a weed filled jungle into the group’s first edible community garden.
Since then the group have created eight more gardens – each different in its look and location from a community centre grounds to an allotment to a shopping centre rooftop car park – but all working with local people giving their time in order to improve their local environment.
Local groups like IE Standbridge, IE Ossett, IE Pontefract and IE Horbury Bridge within the Wakefield District each manage their own gardens and volunteers like Carol, Julia, Carmen and Julia act as treasurers and keep an eye on things at their sites week to week along with other helpers. Stephen and Dave each looks after one of the community gardens – tending the space, building new planters and helping look after the greenhouses and Phil and Leon help keep their groups community gardens tidy by strimming and mowing regularly whilst a number of other volunteers help out with watering which they co-ordinate through WhatsApp groups for each of the sites. Other “Garden Helpers” propagate plants from seeds and cuttings and sell surplus plants and produce for funds.
And it’s not just about gardening and growing food. Yet more volunteers Tweet and Post to social media to help promote the group’s activities and Suzanne, Jane, Jean and Ann make food and homemade wine for the group’s social events.
Craig and Vicky have developed an amazing skill set from owning their own allotment and building much of the infrastructure so they volunteer their time to help out with construction projects like lining out a workshop for IEW “Sheds” woodworking initiative. Craig has also helped Steve develop the woodwork shop and to manage/train new participants in woodworking skills, making planters, plant labels and things like bird boxes and hedgehog houses which are used in edible community gardens and sold for funds. Another volunteer, Andy, has a degree in product design so is always coming up with new ideas and designs for vertical growing and watering and Mark has used his homebrew experience, sharing his skills with their Urban Harvest group which collects surplus apples from around the district and turns it into “Wakey Windfall” Cider.
None of these activities would be possible without John, Clare, Stuart, Lynda, Helen, Sandra, Katie and others before them volunteering their time to take care of the governance of the organisation, attending quarterly board meetings, taking minutes and being ambassadors for the organisation in between.
And this story isn’t unique to Wakefield – it’s repeated across most of 100+ Incredible Edible groups across the United Kingdom and 600groups across the world, all of which rely on people who realise the Power of Small Actions and have volunteered to be Incredible!! What our volunteers have in common is that as well as giving something back to their community they’ve made new friends and gained new skills and in many cases volunteering has taken their lives in directions they may not have expected. Where could volunteering with Incredible Edible take you?