12 Jun 2012
Vegbox – a new social enterprise emerging out of Transition Kentish Town, and how you can do it too
Here in Transition Kentish Town we’ve been running events and projects for two and a bit years. We have a steering group, a food group, two gardening groups of one kind or another, an energy group. For year or so we had a pop up shop. And we’ve made a lot of chutney along the way. As always with voluntary groups, the active people come and go and we work with this ebb and flow. We try to make sure we’re enjoying ourselves so active people will return. And we often come back to our early insight that as a Transition Initiative we want to remain informal and voluntary, independent of the council and grant givers, and rooted in friendship, family and community. Vegbox has emerged out of a desire to set up a something more formal alongside this: a social enterprise.
A community-led business with paid staff and the discipline of needing to be financially viable, but where the profits are earmarked for social purposes. We’re always looking out for opportunities to create visible, lasting projects and then Growing Communities’ ‘Start Up Programme’ came along. Growing Communities are an established veg box scheme based in Hackney and this programme supports others to set up community-led box schemes based on their model.
It was ideal for us. We had been thinking about food focused enterprises, as food is what excites us the most, and the Growing Communities programme offers an amazingly comprehensive package of support. It’s not only a tried and tested business model, there is training and mentoring, there are detailed financial models and logistical systems to use and adapt, and there are a bunch of committed, humorous and patient people over in Hackney to work with!
So we called our new social enterprise Vegbox – it does what it says on the tin! – and put together our core proposal: a community-led organic vegetable box scheme with a weekly selection of fresh seasonal produce, sourced as locally as possible. We think this social enterprise model gives us as a Transition Initiative a chance to engage with our local communities in a different way. Our Food Group runs re-skilling workshops and raises awareness around sustainable food issues.
But Vegbox gives us a chance to actually build a new supply chain linking sustainable farms directly with our local community and ‘locking in’ new patterns of behaviour. Signing up to a weekly box of vegetables makes you consume differently as you are forced to engage with the limits of what is seasonally available, picking up vegetables from collection points is sociable and gives you support and peer pressure from others who have made the decision to put their money into this alternative economy.
It’s taken us a lot of time to get going with Vegbox: we had to get the people involved to allocate serious personal time towards it, e.g. taking a day out of their day job, and there were some big things that we had to sort out, e.g. a community centre that would let us use their yard as a packing venue. There’s been so much to do and we haven’t even launched yet! But now we’re on the verge of a big adventure: launching to customers at the end of the summer.
[The Growing Communities training scheme that Tom refers to is about to restart, and may well be of interest to your Transition initaitive if you are planning to start something similar. Here are the details about it:]
Growing Communities seeks social entrepreneurs
Are you fed up with the supermarkets dominating our food system? Do you want to help the environment by changing how and what we eat? Would you like to create jobs for local people? Growing Communities is looking for people who are interested in setting up a not-for-profit business to bring more sustainable food to their community – and is holding a workshop on 4 July to explain how to get involved.
Growing Communities has been running a successful community-led organic box scheme in Hackney, East London, for 18 years. Our model offers farmers a fair price and a guaranteed market by harnessing the buying power of communities and directing it towards those local farmers who are growing food in sustainable ways. Here is a short video about us:
We have launched a Start-Up Programme to enable other local groups to set up box schemes in their area and use community-led trade to help change the current damaging and unsustainable food system into one that is fairer, more resilient and less dependent on fossil fuels.
Our Start-Up Programme offers everything you need to get your local box scheme up and running – the training, mentoring, tools and support to start feeding your community more sustainably and creating jobs in your local area. The five groups from across the UK who took part in last year’s programme are all successfully up and running and are about to complete their first year of trading.
If you have enthusiasm, spare time and a commitment to getting a social enterprise started, the programme might be for you.
We’re running a free introductory workshop on Wednesday 4 July 2012 at Growing Communities’ headquarters in Hackney. This is a chance for people interested in setting up a community-led box scheme to find out more about the Start-up Programme, to see Growing Communities’ box scheme in action and ask questions. To register for the free workshop, see how to apply. Spaces are limited, so please submit an expression of interest form by Friday 15 June.
To find out more about the Start-up Programme itself, including what you get for your money, visit Growing Communities’ Start-up website (http://www.
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