Cultivate Waltham Forest. To eat healthy you must work donkey.

In 2006 I took an allotment in Chingford. What a dump it was. Considering the land was/is owned by LB Waltham Forest, surely they had a duty as landlord to keep it in good nick. It was a massive uncultivated plot full of elephant-high brambles, and rubbish such as wheels and iron bits obviously thrown in by other allotment holders as they tilled their neat patches. Next to it was/is a bee hive inside the thickest blackberry bushes you’ve ever seen with ripe blackberries no-one would dare gather. That enterprise was managed by the allotment manager’s brother

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Despite the shortage of allotments in the borough and believe me, I had to do the running around myself to find one and that was miles away, most allotment owners actually owned more than two plots each on the same grounds! Allotments were gold dust.

Recently I overheard hipsters say how they rent half an allotment. Make no mistake though you need muscle for even a quarter of a plot …all year round. You get a manager breathing down your neck waiting for you to default, report you to WF Green Spaces, then evict you so he can give the plot to his family allegedly.
So in 2006 I lost three stone in weight carrying water, heaving away junk, and sweating under the unshaded relentless World Cup year sun. All trees were ground-hoggers and cut down. I know! In hallowed Waltham Forest! There was one tree on my plot which served as shelter in the torrential rain and shelter for the horse-radish. I’d hide my tools under a corner of weeds which would not budge. They were always moved but at least not stolen. If my bladder were full, tough. The only toilet was locked and up to today I await the requested key. Obviously only menarchial women harvest under the moon. I was nagged and nagged to get rid of that tree.

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I’m glad I had the experience. I made sure my sister got that plot. Others made sure their families were allotment-holders so what suits the Chingford Whites suits me. She was targeted and threatened with the closure of her tenancy because while she was on maternity leave she “neglected” her site. She never knew how the powers were over-charging her for years but knows they never apologized. They picked on the wrong woman for a squabble. She used her mouth and answered back holding on to her hollyhocks! Sure the management stinks allegedly but the ground workers collude as they join ranks and keep something to themselves for themselves. Selfish land-grabbers.
Meanwhile seven years on I lament the loss of dried mud on supermarket potatoes never mind cry at the price charged for washed anaemic spuds. I used to farm and tried to munch my way through over stocks of veg. The indoor drawers would be full of tomatoes in newspaper; every neighbour’s house like mine would stink of sulphuric boiled cabbage. Onions hanging on rafters would bang your head whenever you entered sheds. I built greenhouses from scratch with another person helping. We recycled abandoned wood frame windows from renovated old croft houses. All this before the revolution. To eat healthy you must work donkey.
I am looking forward to the Cultivate Waltham Forest conference at the end of March this year. It’s the first of its kind and is a natural result from the initiatives inspired by the dynamic new population arriving in Walthamstow. Beetroot is the new black y’all!Coldfall Wood. Cold January 2014

You can see it all now: potato prints, mushroom collages, smoothie pop-ups.. again, odes to onions. All good but hoping Leyton people get a look in. In Leyton it seems that any space, back garden or otherwise, is taken up by concrete for the car, low-maintenance blown-leaf clearance, or a bed for a mattress. And farming the land doesn’t necessarily carry social prestige in any community. Minds have to be fertilised to view what’s on our doorsteps if we want change in our health and community living. The Cultivate conference will aim to do that surely besides it being a ra ra forum for self-congratulation over green projects.

Volunteering Works 2011 in Waltham Forest

This borough eh? You wouldn’t believe that it is one of the 5 London 2012 boroughs . What actually goes on in the green place? The youngsters feel despondent  too. Check out what Josh Ryan had to say on his BBC London 2012 film. if you go to the trouble of making a film about what is not occuring in LBWF then you are serious.

I look for free activities for seniors in all 5 boroughs and woeful are my findings for WF. I have to reach out of the borough and then make sure that WF seniors are actually welcome. It doesn’t impress me at all when for example Newham writes on their flyers  “Newham residents only” . I have to negotiate. I know it’s all to do with funding but WF seniors become refugees travelling just over the border to get  something nice. Ain’t we 5 boroughs all in this together?

Sometimes WF wakes up and realises that we are near the Games time. “Personal Best”, a course which was offered to WF residents to cheer them up, motivate them and let them believe that The Olympics and Paralympic Games were for them and that they would very likely get jobs on the site they’d never actually seen, came and went in all its glory of achievement targets, Individual Plans, and final ceremonies. The course was well-delivered and structured but it was what it was and led to no trumpet fan-fares in the borough .

It returned disguised by funding operators as “Volunteering Works Summer 2011.” And it was hardly  advertised: 70 years olds were stopped in their tracks at Priory Court Community Centre and asked whether they wanted to do a 2 full day a week 10 week hand-writing course for free. Volinteers already in place were asked to pop in to make up the numbers. What a farce. Class in Waltham Forest revived the old Personal Best course and never bothered to re -vamp it in any way despite the fact that we now have The Big Society, a change in funding for social enterprises due to massive public cuts, an unmanageable immigrant influx,  funding having been swiped away from students on  ESOL courses, and digital access as a means of applying for posts and indeed searching for  anything.

Courses such as “Volunteering Works 2011” are aimed at a population seen as deficient in many ways: people with low self-esteem, women who  have childcare responsibilities, non-working mothers, the unemployable unemployed, long-time job-seekers and lately, seniors who are already volunteering. The measurement of success is all down to how the individual raises her/his competency levels regarding writing a CV (used to be so banned in WF) and how successful their self-selling skills are; “soft skills”.And the high achiever may , just may get a look in as a Games Maker in the Games. So not, especially if the applicant has child care responsibilities, little English, mental dysfunction caused by low self-esteem in a society where everything just got harder, more expensive, more worrying. And those sought-after volunteering jobs on the Games site (What  are they?) are unpaid, let’s remember.

I can be as positive as the next flower but that would be going along with an increasingly backward borough whose planners have not nurtured its residents in the run-up to a global event. “Volunteering Works 2011” has landed in the lap of the cynical and those who cannot commit 2 full days a week  to something that leads to nowhere.