Food and Water

Food and water are vital to everyone’s survival and yet with the pressures of climate change, population growth & the need to find alternative energy sources, food & water might not automatically be at the top of people’s priority list.

As a North West based RSA fellow and co-founder of social business, Squirrel Nation, I was excited to get involved in the ‘Keep Calm, Prepare for Change’ event ( which explored these issues with inspirational and practical examples from the business and community sector.

A few years ago, I moved back to living in Manchester city centre and became acutely aware of the lack of local and seasonal food in the city centre, especially as my partner, who moved up from Berkshire, was used to local and seasonal food and took it for granted. In an effort to reduce the food miles (miles food has to travel to reach our plates) we embraced a challenge of sourcing and cooking local and seasonal food in Manchester City Centre.

We started by blogging our efforts via and before we knew it, we’d tried out lots of recipes, found places that supplied local and seasonal food and built up a healthy blog following, with many people trying and sharing recipes more widely. We now have an intuitive knowledge of what’s available seasonally and 2 years worth of recipes at our fingertips.

The natural next step was to start growing our own food but living in a flat in central Manchester, our miserable attempts to grow tomatoes and herbs indoors didn’t get very far until we happened upon local residents’ group, the northern quarter greening group ( who aimed to green Manchester City Centre with the support of CityCo (

Image of our northern quarter greening group growbox (download from this link then embed in blog post)

Before we knew it, we were lucky enough to have our own growbox along with other residents in Picadilly Basin. That summer we had our first food growing successes with broad beans, spinach and radishes. Although once again the tomatoes didn’t quite make the grade! In the end we moved to Old Trafford which afforded us the luxury of a back yard which is now dedicated to our growing efforts.

One of the challenges for social businesses is how to create a truly sustainable business – on four fronts: social & environmental impact, securing ongoing investment & ensuring human development and learning. This is where I hoped to learn from Keep Calm case studies and wasn’t disappointed

Pam Warhurst introduced the incredible edible project ( which has imagined and created edible landscapes in todmorden including in hospitals, outside police stations and the railway station. Their approach was to use food as a ‘trojan horse’ to kickstart conversations. The project is run entirely by volunteers. I loved Pam’s approach to inclusion which was straightforward ‘If you eat, you’re in… you don’t have to sign up to anything’.

Pam’s tips to making community-led initiatives happen:

– Believe in the power of small actions
– Stay positive and the world will follow
– Involve ordinary folks with families and kids who give a damn about the future

Water was the other big challenge tackled at Keep Calm. The paradox with climate change is that global warming increases the likelihood of flooding and with flooding comes the challenge of people being able to access clean water. Having recently participated in an art exhibition exploring the importance of water, as part of artist collective, Life Friendly (, we explored this challenge by creating a flood shelter in a disused retail unit. In the same way that we wondered how we could survive on local and seasonal food – we wondered how could we survive living in a city flooded by water – how could clean water be obtained, how could food be sourced, what about power for heat and light? We designed the shelter to be a living archive where it appears that the shelter occupant has been trying to tackle these solutions and their survival depends on it. How could a city become better equipped, designed to tackle the floods, and importantly, how can citizens take the lead?

Keep Calm brought in several companies and community organisations who were actively tackling these challenges. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about United Utilities efforts to keep on top of flooding and preparing their customers for floods. I was inspired to hear from Steve Welsh of Hydroelectric Stockport (, a community run initiative to generate power. Steve pointed out that their actions to create their own green power was driven by the injustice of climate change, rising energy prices and the fact that soon only those who could afford it would be able to buy power.

The ethos behind Keep Calm was to inspire people to come together to develop  ideas to tackle these grand challenges by sharing insights, connecting to the fellowship network and applying to the RSA’s Catalyst fund
( But its not just about funding, support from Catalyst is about unlocking the power of the RSA fellowship network and making change happen.

Erinma is a Wellcome Trust engagement fellow ( and with Caroline Ward (BBC Outreach producer) they combine their interests and passions as Squirrel Nation, based at Islington Mill, Salford.

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