Sustain London Food Link Articles

The urban growing advocate

Fi McAllister, was coordinator of the Capital Growth urban food growing network for three years. Here she shares her experiences of helping hundreds of growing spaces and many more people, to grow their own food in London.  

Fi. Credit: Mayya Husseini

Fi. Credit: Mayya Husseini

What did you do before you joined Sustain as the Capital Growth Coordinator?  

Before starting my role almost three years ago, I was running a programme of family outreach and intergenerational activities at a community centre, with a big emphasis on food, cooking and gardening as a way of bringing people together. I also worked at Growing Communities helping run their weekly veg scheme for local members as well as coordinating their school and educational visits at the different food growing sites across the borough. 

When I have some spare time, I also do some freelancing with Made in Hackney teaching plant-based community cookery classes. 

What’s a typical week like in this role? 

Coordinating the programme involves making sure things are ticking over g on all workstreams and I have my eye on what’s down the line, new areas of focus and problem solving any challenges.  It also involves a lot of comms but equally helping to make things happen on the ground.

The thing I enjoy the most about the network is connecting people and joining up the dots; every week I talk to people involved with food growing and often from different angles and with different roles - people involved with food growing at the local level, council officers supporting food growing initiatives, more established organisations and other network organisations.  

I spend a fair bit of time emailing, signposting people, and having in person and online meetings. But also some I try to fit in garden visits and speaking face-to-face with people.  

What are you really proud of from your time at Sustain? 

I started early in the pandemic. In fact, I accepted the job before the first lockdown was announced, so we had no idea what was coming. I’m proud we sustained the network and kept supporting food growing communities across London, while shouting about how important food growing was (almost more important than ever!) for health, wellbeing, access to nutritious and affordable food and in creating resilient communities. The Community Harvest initiative felt like a great achievement (you can watch our film here).  

What’s the most rewarding part of the job? 

Knowing that my job is contributing towards something bigger and something really important. Creating and supporting food growing and green spaces across London where I live and am raising my kids. That what I do is fighting for a better, greener future despite the gloomy times we’re living in.

Who has helped you along the way? 

All my badass colleagues at Sustain! Honestly they’re all incredible and so driven and so impressive and most importantly very kind and friendly. I also couldn’t have done my role without the unwavering support of my line manager – Sarah - and the company and support of a brilliant Capital Growth team – Janelle and Chris who have moved on now, and now the very lovely Mayya! 

What attributes do you think are key for the role? 

I think it’s important to be good at juggling – so good project management skills are a must. The role includes interacting with lots of different people in different roles and involved in food growing from different angles. It’s important to have experience of delivery programmes as we run different networking and training events through the year. However, it’s also important to balance this with a more strategic vision and be ready to work with the councils and other organisations and take a step back to think about the bigger picture.  

I’d love to see Capital Growth become a bit more campaigns-focused. I don’t have a campaigns background but we’re in good company here at Sustain and there’s so much experience and knowledge in this area. 

Do you have any hopes for food growing in London? 

My future hopes - that London’s councils and decision makers take food growing more seriously and we get more political support, that it gets pushed up the agenda. That includes seeing the Mayor of London make some big commitments to support food growing. And that London’s amazing food growing spaces are protected and that a greater diversity of Londoners have access to opportunities to grow their own. 

Any top tip for potential candidates? 

It might sound obvious but my key piece of advice if you’re planning to apply for the job, is to read the person spec really well and think creatively about how you fit the role! 

Can you tell us one thing people might not know about Sustain? 

Our office is REALLY nice…and quite fancy! We’re at the Green House (parrt of the Ethical Property Company). We have great neighbours. And we have a roof garden directly opposite the office with a fabulous view of the city and raised beds with lots of fruit and veg.

Published Monday 27 February 2023

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