A workers' cooperative growing food on London's edge in the Lea Valley

Guest blog: Alice, box scheme volunteer

Alice started volunteering with us at the start of lockdown, six months ago…
It’s a glorious, sunny day in early April. The roads are silent as I cycle from Walthamstow to Chingford and begin to skirt Epping Forest. I am en route to Organic Lea Community Growers at Hawkwood Nursery on the outskirts of Epping Forest. My partner and I had been customers of the vegetable bag scheme since October last year and having always been in full-time work I had never had the opportunity to volunteer on site. As lockdown was announced, many volunteers and members of the cooperative were unable to attend the site and orders on the bag scheme were quickly rising. Existing customers who were able to agree to strict COVID-19 requirements were invited to lend a hand to ensure customers received their weekly fruit & veg supply. I leapt at the opportunity to volunteer and I have now been with the community for the past 6 months!
To those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting/volunteering at Hawkwood Nursery, you will know exactly the overwhelming feeling of joy as you come through those gates and are instantly greeted by the charming melodies of birdsong, the fresh, earthy scent of the forest floor and the colourful entrance field, with its cascading hill of rotation crops. In a moment you are transported to a haven and the sense that you could be anywhere else in the world but London! You cannot help but display a huge grin on your way in (albeit behind a face covering!) and feel slightly smug to have access to this stunning hideaway.

Volunteering with OrganicLea has enabled me to find routine amidst uncertainty. I am sure many can relate, when first being furloughed and the redundancy follows. I have spent more than five years as a womenswear designer and although I still do and will always be very passionate about fashion, my roles designing in fast-fashion were never in line with my core beliefs. I’m exploring routes into more sustainable and ethical work practices and I am extremely excited to be starting my level 1 work-based horticulture qualification with OrganicLea from October. The work I have been doing with the coop is invaluable to my development as a person and professionally. I have spent time volunteering with some incredible people on both box pack scheme and the horticultural side and have absorbed as much as I can whilst on site. It’s safe to say I still know very little about sustainable farming, but I am eager to continue learning!

It’s trying times for the world we live in and I have found staying as positive as possible and acknowledging beauty, however small, has unquestioningly helped me through the past months and these things I experience every time I enter those gates at the Hawkwood ‘haven’!

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