Climate Change From the Grassroots Up

“Ordinary folk are magnificent.” Pamela Warhurst – Incredible Edible.

A pensioner from small northern community may not be you’re immediate idea of a hero. But that is the amazing thing about grassroots heroes, extraordinary people are to be found everywhere and often in the most unlikely places.

For those of you yet to be acquainted with Pamela and her work, she is the founder of the hugely successful Incredible Edible movement. This is a community movement that has galvanized thousands of people to transform their communities into collaborative, connected, kinder places, through the medium of food. Set up in 2007, there are now over 100 Incredible Edibles nationally and over 1,000 worldwide.

I met Pamela Warhurst in a quiet hotel in Leeds, and as the first of our hero interviews, I was excited to meet someone for whom I had huge admiration as a social innovator and grassroots icon. Pamela is a slight woman, who you might pass unnoticed in the street but when she talks, you listen. She is impossible to ignore, her keen intelligence fuelled by exasperation and innate sense of responsibility makes her narrative compelling. She tells her story straight from her heart to yours, capturing attention through wit and wisdom, underscored with credentials and achievements most Fortune 500 businesses would love to boast.

Top Down Approach Increasingly Ineffectual
In common with many grassroots initiatives, Pamela explained that Incredible Edible’s beginnings were a direct response to an overwhelming sense of frustration at the lack of meaningful change achieved through a top down approach. In this instance, to climate change. Caught up in bureaucracy, drowning in spread-sheets and attending yet another climate change conference, it seemed to her that nothing would change. Travelling back from the conference, Pam was motivated to take action and sketched out a possible community led response on the back of her napkin. Her genius was to identify, within the chaos of climate complexity, a small step change starting point that could engage people at a simple, accessible point. Food; universal, vital, relatable and, more importantly, growable.

Taking her innovation-on-a-napkin to friend Mary Clear, they spent the night shaping Pamela’s idea into a vision, identifying small actions that could begin the process of change. With no funds, resources or template, together they came up with the idea of using wasted public realm to start growing vegetables and inviting people to take what they would like home to cook and eat.

Finding Simplicity in Complexity to Engage
This simple idea began to capture the communities’ attention; one day Mary found a casserole dish containing vegetable soup left on her doorstep by a grateful mother who had made good use of the vegetables and herbs grown for public use, and left some soup to say thank you.

Food, growing, giving, cooking, eating and sharing brought a community together and inspired a myriad of related initiatives involving the wide-ranging needs and skills of the community.

Grassroots Leadership: Finding connecting purpose, seeing power in people
Pamela’s passion stems from her family and community, provoking an almost Boadicean like determination to reverse the affects of climate change at community level, and recognising the power of people to achieve this.

Indeed Incredible Edible is a perfect example of just how much people are capable of when given the right impetus and conditions. Pamela would readily admit that, whilst she is the inspiration and architect, it is others that have brought her vision to life, and made it the success it is today.

Incredible Edible’s growing number of communities uses the Todmorden model as inspiration to ignite their communities with sense of possibility and connectivity.

Of course there have been challenges, and will continue to be so, but the grassroots approach not only allows for this, but expects it, so is able to address issues head on as and when they occur.

As the movement grows Pam is insistent that this is not about ‘scaling up’ in traditional sense of the word, it’s about ‘spreading’, a subtle but important point of difference that eludes to the real power of a grassroots approach; understanding the huge potential in others to meet their own challenges and deliver success when given the right motivation and support to do so, and “ always learning”.

Ultimately, its not about control. It’s about getting results.