Thursday, 13 November 2008

Welcome to the Good Life







Self- professed Eco-centric Sarah Taylor sits forward and sips at her mug of fair trade coffee. With her knitted cardi, backpack and kinked dyed hair, the aesthetics resonate a young Dame Anita Roddick. Her passion and enthusiasm is contagious as she talks on her recent venture; as the founder of the UK's first non-academic allotment society, student self-sufficiency and how our nation has lost touch with the pre-war values of growing our own food. Her refreshing advice and vision will hopefully shed some light on how students, communities and governments can find their own way out of today’s intoxicating plastic bag generation.


The interview takes place at the University of Gloucestershire, at the Francis Close Hall campus. The setting is ideal for the subject matter; for the scene from the window is almost enraptured within time. The wonderful mock Gothic architecture embeds a beautifully preserved quadrangle, university chapel and a hidden secret garden. The Cardiff English Literature graduate confessed she chose the university due to its high green credentials and its continual commitment towards sustainable living. The university was ranked number 1 in the 2008 Green people and Planet league of Universities and has recently been awarded a green gown for continuous improvement. The institution's Sustainability Strategy intends to continue challenging unsustainable practice and changing mindsets and ways of thinking.

This is the mantra which Taylor seems to have incorporated into her project's ethos. The allotment society was created over the summer, the brainchild of Taylor after having completed eight months work experience with a variety of different environmental groups. Growing up in the Lake District her upbringing of outdoor walks and fresh home-grown vegetables rooted itself in her psyche. Speaking on her voluntary work, it seems she has always worn sustainability on her sleeve, "Yet it took me working within the groups to really realise how broad and diverse environmental issues are, as well as its large political base".


Keeping her green fingertips in ahem, all the local south-west pies seems to have paid off. When Sarah heard through the grapevine that the Gloucestershire independent Charity, Vision21 and Friends of the Earth were integrating together on an initiative, she approached the Student Union about creating a sustainable, organic allotment society. " I took the position as organiser as it is good experience on many levels. I do genuinely feel it is a very good idea." Yet as the conversation progresses, it seems her sound ethics are more deep-rooted:



"Everybody has a choice to eat well and fresh organic food should be more accessible, with the working classes having access to better forms of food".


The allotment society has won both national and local interest due to it being the country's first non-academic horticultural society. Taylor giggles when broached with the inaccurate report of the society comprising of Vyvyans, Ricks and hippie-esque Neil characters (from the 80s alternative sitcom, The Young Ones) - a perhaps unfair representation by a national newspaper:


“ I find it amusing. There are better ways of describing the lifestyle and organisation. It presents a negative stereotype of students who don’t care, but committee and prospective student members have the cause close to their heart”.

Students are the future and in turn seem to be creating a positive environmental difference. From the organic fruit and vegetable co-operative, wildlife conservation and Eco-holidays there is a feeling that the society will indefinitely grow. From television offers to horticultural therapy lessons, it seems the seeds have certainly been sown.
" I think it will grow. The University and the Student Union operate as different bodies, but both want to promote sustainability. We have the potential to be sourced locally, using our produce for the university cafeterias."


Yet she is not just focusing upon the small scale. " If the University had more land the spectrum would be much broader. It is all down to permaculture- maximising the use of space which you have.”

Having moved from Cardiff, which boasts a very "big green scene", Taylor is quick to promote the South-West's organic farming credentials.
“The South West is a great part of the country for organic produce and farming and there is a lot of potential to learn from each other".

But what about the rest of the UK? Does Taylor believe that in today's fast food, fast fix world we have lost touch with the self-sufficiency values of old? " We definitely have. There was a swift change after the War due to globalisation and mass production. We seem to have misplaced the natural instincts of the pre-war generation."

[“The specialist image is about to end, no matter what your age you can make an environmental difference. There is a greater demand for green space as many people in the cities do not own gardens. It is definitely becoming increasing more important”.]
With waiting lists for allotments surpassing those for beach huts and awareness of recycling and reusing, pockets of small communities are becoming more resourceful, and in turn more in control of their everyday lives.

Yet the Environmental Policy postgraduate is cautious of the media hype, a feeling dubbed "green washing". " There is definitely a shift of being aware but we need to see the nation as a whole practice what they preach."

Taylor's pioneering has worked to turn over the first new leaf, and it shan't be long before students, local communities and perhaps government initiatives work together to unearth the practices of old. Like Roddick with her 10 products in the original Brighton Body Shop store, Taylor's 10 'student' horticulturists ( comprising of 1st years, landscape architects and an award winning allotment owner-come lecturer) are " all learning together" to work towards a common ground.

Roddick once said, ‘ If I can’t do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing? A sentiment which seems to echo in Taylor’s voice when asked on her future aspirations:
“The project has inspired me more to be orientated around sustainability. To be at the heart of the community.”


































3 comments:

faithraine said...

I found this from Lystra at the uni, and am very pleased to read it. Thank you for portraying what I am aiming for in the right tone. I hope it was of use to your studies.

Best wishes
-Sarah

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