Rhian Grant, co-author of the Equity Report, a community research project commissioned by St Werburghs City Farm, writes our latest Bristol Bites Back Better blog post. Rhian writes about the formation of the project and the actions that the farm is taking to mitigate and remove barriers to access.
Back in the blissful, pre-Covid era of November 2019, a diverse team of three came together (in person!) to initiate a research project. The vision for this project was birthed by coach and educator, Esme Worrell – the then Business Manager of SWCF’s Propagation Place – on the day that they walked into the Farm’s office and asked the Directors the question, “What are you doing about the lack of diversity on this farm?”
Situated at the centre of Ashley Ward, St Werburghs City Farm (SWCF) is a well-loved community green space, that seems ideally placed to provide a valuable resource to the ethnically diverse communities that are the beating heart of areas within the Farm’s catchment, including St Pauls, St Agnes, St Judes, Lockleaze, and the neighbouring wards of Easton and Lawrence Hill. But, that day in 2019, the Directors of SWCF acknowledged that the Farm was not doing enough to welcome, include, and cater to all members of the diverse community that they aimed to serve. They wanted to change that. So, with funding from the Coop Foundation, the Equity Project began.
In came Manu Maunganidze: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser, and Cultural and Environmental Consultant. With his experience, expertise, and solid network among Bristol’s green space and community organisations, Manu was an incredible asset to our team.
Our Project Manager was Esme Worrell: Educator and Business Coach. An inspiring, resourceful, and socially conscious nerd, Es was the visionary and driver of the research, always feeding our work with ideas; passionate discourse; and constant commitment to our wellbeing and resilience.
And then there was me: I initially came on board as a volunteer, with some experience at the Farm, and a genuine passion for the aims of the project. Horticulture, community, and writing are my core interests, and I joined the team eager to learn and contribute.
Our goal for the Equity Project was to find out what kind of a relationship the local community had to urban farming and horticulture; to ascertain whether local people felt able or inclined to engage with the facilities and services offered by SWCF; and to explore the factors that stood in the way of, or prevented people engaging with the space. All of this was done with a focus on diversity, and the particular barriers that exist for people of colour. The ultimate aim was to equip ourselves with the insight needed to recommend changes that would help embed a cultural shift in the organisation of the Farm, and that would in turn welcome a more diverse community to participate in the space.
Getting out into the community of Ashley Ward and speaking to its residents was eye-opening and informative: we had some of our assumptions confirmed and we also came across interesting and unexpected perspectives which helped us to mould our process, and lent insight and recommendations to the report that we could never have come up with ourselves. That is the point of doing community research and community engagement: the community that an organisation hopes to serve will not only benefit from a service or a facility, but will shape and better it too. For that possibility to be realised, the community has to be heard.
Leading focus groups that drew on already existing community bases was a great way to open up discussion amongst the community, and to draw insights from people’s experiences and perspectives in a context of both open and supported conversation. And speaking with people we dubbed ‘experts’ – community leaders, urban farming professionals, and community green-space facilitators – gave us an immense amount of insight, which we were able to draw on in making recommendations for SWCF’s particular context.
Meanwhile, we outsourced external professionals, including independent Cultural Competency Advisor, Cacao Stephens, and another Diversity Trust Consultant, to perform top-to-toe audits of documents, processes, and cultural competency at the Farm, so that we could assess barriers and issues for access and inclusion from all angles.
I can’t talk about the Equity Report without referencing two significant shifts in global context, which shed new light on our work, and forced us to step back and rethink many of our approaches.
Since it took hold of the UK in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to cast a stark light on the inequalities that underpin our institutional and social structures. The nation’s attention has at last been drawn, irreversibly, to the reality of embedded racism at structural, cultural, and psychological levels in British society.
The violent killings by police in the US, of Breonna Taylor on 13th March, and George Floyd on 25th May, sparked global solidarity with the movement for Black lives. Bristol’s own response resounded loud and clear with the toppling of the statue of the slave-trader, Edward Colston, from its podium in the city centre. It said: Enough! It’s time for real change.
All of us have had to face a tough new perspective on reality since the pivotal events of 2020. As a research team carrying out the Equity Project, we also had to adjust, and decide how to do better for our communities. The reflections and analysis that we carried out as part of our research were necessarily informed and augmented by these historic events.
The Equity Report has been well-received, in spite of having pulled very few of its punches! It has already begun to influence many positive changes at SWCF, including shifts toward more inclusive recruitment, infrastructure, and outreach. Other organisations too have shown interest, and intentions toward doing similar work for themselves and their own diverse communities. In all of this, the Equity Project has been a success, but it is only one tiny step. It has been the hope and intention of the authors from the outset, that this piece of work would inspire further research and contribute to a wider shift in organisational change across the fields of urban farming and horticulture in the UK. There are many amazing organisations and networks contributing to change right now who have inspired us. It’s going to take all of that work, and more, to achieve a truly inclusive farming and horticultural sector in the UK. Let’s continue to make change happen…
To take a look at the Equity Report, and to check out St Werburghs City Farm’s response to the research, and the actions that they are taking to mitigate and remove barriers to access, head on over to www.swcityfarm.co.uk/equity
Watch this space for an upcoming article about the work that St Werburghs City Farm is doing to implement the recommendations and lessons of the Equity Report.
By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.