Learning from others #1
Reading time: 6 mins
Our Oldham Energy Futures community groups took a trip to Squash, Liverpool, as a part of our project. We chose to visit Squash as, like our project, Squash has its community and sustainability in its heart.
Introduction to Squash
Squash is a women-led, bold and ambitious community organisation established by Clare Owens and Becky Vipond. It has been rooted and home-grown on Windsor Street in Toxteth, Liverpool since 2010. Embracing art, food, and environmental focus, they are committed to affecting their neighbourhood’s creative, participatory, positive social change.
Surrounding that Inspires
For Becky and Clare, it was crucial that what they did and where they worked fell in line with their core values and ethos. Taking this idea one step further and, with support from Urbed, they designed a building for Squash.
Their main objective for the build was to be ‘light on the planet’, have a low carbon footprint and be environmentally responsible.
The building materials reflect this objective. The hub is constructed from an ethically sourced timber frame, clad with FSC timber from Scotland, with a recycled steel roof and wall insulation made from recycled newspaper. The design process was user-led, meaning that future users of the building, so Squash volunteers and many local residents were invited to shape that space in terms of how they wanted to use it, but also how it should feel. The building won the People’s Prize in the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products Awards. Here is a great film about that process.
A snapshot of our day at Squash
Our day began with taking a tour of the building and community garden with the co-founder of Squash Becky. She gave us an overview of the organisation’s history – from transforming a disused car park into a community garden to fundraising, building, and moving to their custom-built space, which now hosts a local food shop, cafe, training and events space.
Becky explained how everything at Squash centres around food – as a way to come together, address local issues, learn, celebrate and build capacity.
We were so lucky to visit the community garden, a pocket-sized oasis just down the street from the community space.
Here we found apple trees growing under the weight of this year’s produce, pumpkins and squash nestled among hay bales and tomatoes merrily growing plumper in the geodome. All tended to by local volunteers.
While there, we met Jackie, the garden manager, who told us about how the community garden has grown and changed over the years expanding into a space responsive to the community and providing a social area for people to meet.
She tells us about the Squash tradition of how every volunteer session in the garden is followed by preparing and eating a meal together. The garden has evolved and been shaped by the volunteers and the community’s needs. They have a seed library, where they collect and share seeds for local growers. They have several polytunnels and a thriving compost. Several participants have developed their own business from within this process, for example, a super successful composting business!
From those initial get-togethers around food, Squash has been able to support so many more aspects of community life, including improving health and well-being and mitigating climate change.
Good Food is a Good Mood
As you can imagine, our lunch at Squash was delicious, prepared by the talented staff in the cafe and made using fresh produce from their community garden.
A bowl of yummy soup, freshly made bread, homemade cheese, hummus, and a side of fresh salad with edible flowers! (Think rainbow and lots of green) And, just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat anything else, we were given a delicious apple and walnut cake to finish.
Food that was delicious and sustainable; the best type!
After a fantastic lunch, our participants settled in the garden space for the fourth Oldham Energy Futures Workshop; thanks to the inspirational setting, the conversation and ideas were flowing!
Fun Fact: In 2019, Squash won the BBC Food and Farming Best Shop award!
One for All and All for One
The relationship Squash has with its community isn’t a one-way relationship. Squash is playing its part in giving to its community via bring it forward schemes, including soup it forward and lunch box schemes that allow them to support many local families with fresh veg.
But the community also plays their part; in 2015, when a devastating fire destroyed the hub, midway through the build, community members set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised £20,000, allowing Squash to rebuild.
As they say, nothing brings people together like good food!
Food for Thought
Squash has a Hundred years vision of developing the whole street. It is a people-powered vision, one that gives their community confidence in their goals. At the moment, they are already 10/12 years in and have achieved so much. Which is only an indicator of what Squash is capable of achieving for its community in the future
What our participants had to say about Squash
At the day end, we asked our participants what they thought of squash. Here are some of the comments they had to make:
“Wholesome food – an absolute mood.”
“We might be late to join, but we need something like this.”
“Squash is Brilliant.”
“I love the building – Its purpose and the philosophy behind it.”
“Modern and Organic”
“Definitely see it being the way of the future.”
“Great stuff – I like the idea of putting what you grow directly into your kitchen.”
“The beginning to the end of a process which seems very organised and successful.”
Since Squash has established its food shop, catering and cafe business that is open to the local community to purchase organic and sustainable food, it operates as a community business. These are types of businesses that are owned and run by local members and serve local social and environmental needs. As Becky explains to us, the business part is important, needing to be viable in order to pay people’s wages and produce a profit that can be re-invested to benefit the community. With a membership of 79, and 23 staff who are a mix of payroll and freelance on the books, Squash is certainly growing in the right direction.
As well as other targets for the future Squash are also looking to shift more focus on climate impact through their community hub, Becky told us ‘Squash is committed more than ever to taking action to reduce our climate impact and to supporting our neighbourhood to take positive action to protect and nurture the natural world we share.’
Our participants enjoyed their time at Squash, from learning about the origins to viewing the community garden and enjoying the lovely lunch. Squash is an idea and concept that our participants were inspired by.