Revisiting Global Generation's History - 2009

The next phase of Global Generation’s journey took us from Rooftops to Skips on Developers Land. How did we end up as an integral part of one of the biggest regeneration sites in Europe, all 67 acres of it? Writes Jane Riddiford.

Business and Activism

In large part it is thanks to the fact that Roger Madelin (pictured below), CEO of Argent, developers of the site, and those who work with him, like Anna Strongman, were willing to give us a chance.

Roger visited us at The Office Group roof back in 2006. Arriving in his trademark cycling outfit, he liked the fact that GG was, as he put it, demonstrating that Business and Activism didn’t have to be either end of the spectrum.

He also appreciated the type of people we were bringing on board. He even made the rash suggestion that I should email him ideas I might have about potential projects and sometimes he would reply.

I also began my own back-up plan. This entailed attending events where I knew Roger would be speaking and catching a word with him in the break. Sometimes stubbornness pays off and this time it did.

On one of these occasions he said to me that he had been thinking about the possibility of growing food on the back of flatbed lorries on the development site. The big concern for developers and their investors, in any urban agriculture endeavour is the risk that the growers involved might claim ‘squatters rights’, especially if the garden had any feel of permanency about it.

The next morning I called Paul Richens (pictured below), who came up with the ingenious idea of growing food in skips – large enough to climb inside to garden effectively and definitely portable.

The idea stuck; within days Paul and I were dressed in hard hats and safety vests walking around potential locations with Phil Sullivan Argent’s site manager.

Financial insecurity

This was all occurring amidst a backdrop of intense financial uncertainty for Global Generation. All of our reserves and grant funds were depleted and we only had enough money in the bank, for the next three months.

As a charity, going into deficit is not an option. I knew that if nothing significant happened on the money front we would go under. My hopes were pinned on a large three-year proposal we had submitted to the Big Lottery, but even then we would need to secure 50k of match funding within a month.

Seemingly out of the blue, at about the same time, I received two phone messages. One informed me, off the record, that we might have good news from the Lottery.

The other was from Three Hands, an intermediary body that Guardian News & Media (GNM) had engaged to find a local charity to work with on community-based food growing projects for their new starters. GNM had recently moved into Kings Place, a new building overlooking the Kings Cross Development.

Our Lottery Local Food application was successful and Three Hands introduced us to Viv Taylor, Director of Learning and Development for GNM.

Champions

One of the big lessons over the last seven years has been the importance of having an internal sponsor. At GNM this was Carrina Caffney, Commercial Sustainability Manager. I first met with Carrina in an unofficial capacity, as she like me, was an alumni on the Masters in Responsibility and Business practice at Bath University.

Carrina advised me on how to make our pitch to Viv and the rest of the GNM team. She suggested we get the Generators to send in handwritten letters to GNM’s senior management team, which they did:

One thing you can rely on is our commitment, we are highly motivated generators with young fresh minds and ideas. We believe, coming together, working and interacting with people like the Guardian staff is the best way of making progress. In that way people will be more motivated, inspired and will be able to get the idea to the heart and not just the head.
— Zac, 16 years

Paul Richens produced some terrific designs (above) which made everyone smile and say "yes". Armed with the Generators’ letter and Paul’s drawings I met with Tim Brooks, the then MD of GNM, the COO Derek Gannon and Viv Taylor. Two years later in an interview with one of our Generators, Tim describes our first meeting:

Global Generation turned up with a drawing of a garden in a skip and I laughed – I thought it was funny and brilliant and that we have to do this. So it took about a minute for me to be persuaded. What I loved is that it’s like a dream thing but then they were actually serious about making it happen. That combination of dreaming something but being very practical in making it happen was extremely powerful.
— Tim Brooks, Guardian News and Media, January 2011

GNM and Argent gave us the money needed to develop the Kings Cross Skip Garden through a process of hands on business employee and young people’s workshops, which also provided the necessary match funding for the Lottery Grant.

However, perhaps more significantly in the long term, was that the combined relationship with GNM and Argent / Kings Cross Central provided the kind of national platform Global Generation needed to take the work forward; bringing together talented and passionate people who are committed to innovation and change in urban regeneration and learning and development.

In both cases young people and a grassroots can do spirit were the missing ingredient. This blend of social and physical, inner and outer change has become the hallmark of GG’s work.