Kindling Trust: the Greater Manchester organisation working towards a greener, fairer farming and food system

The organisation runs projects with communities across the city-region and is working towards its dream of having its own full-size farm to put its principles into practice.

For a decade and a half the Kindling Trust has been attempting to play a part in reshaping farming and how our food is grown to make it more accessible to communities and reduce its impact on the planet.

Based in Ancoats and Stockport, the organisation has been working with local residents around Greater Manchester and has a variety of schemes to make good-quality organic food as accessible and affordable as possible.

The not-for-profit is also working towards its long-held goal of running a large-scale farm where it can put more of its ideas into practice.

Co-founder Helen Woodcock spoke to ManchesterWorld about the Kindling Trust’s growth over its first 15 years, whether things have got any better during her decades of work on green and environmental subjects and how it can help people struggling with the current cost of living crisis.

How was the Kindling Trust founded?

Helen set up the Kindling Trust alongside Chris Walsh in 2007 and it is based at Bridge 5 Mill, which the duo established around 20 years ago as a hub dedicated to sustainable living and social change.

They were already interested in questions of ecological justice and putting society on a path to a more environmentally-friendly future and decided the Kindling Trust was their vehicle to explore the role food had to play in that.

Helen said: “People didn’t have access to nice organic food or lots of money to spend on it, and then we also got to know farmers through other things we were doing and realised they were getting paid really badly.

“I got involved in a garden working with kids in Moss Side and they absolutely loved it. It was such a good way of talking to people about things and doing something that improved their health and wellbeing.”

The Kindling Trust was set up along organic principles, with priority being given to the health of the soil, biodiversity and farming in a way that was responsible in terms of its impact on the planet and whether or not it contributed to climate change.

“We talk about food sovereignty, which is about valuing the producers and people who grow our food while increasing access to it for everyone,” Helen said.

What work is the Kindling Trust currently doing?

The Kindling Trust currently runs a number of schemes across Greater Manchester which attempt to put its ideas about a better and fairer way of farming and producing food into practice across the city-region.

It runs Woodbank Community Food Hub, an urban growing space in Offerton in Stockport which includes community growing projects and commercial growing of organic vegetables.

It is also somewhere new farmers can get training, with the Kindling Trust offering a range of courses for people looking to get into growing food on a professional basis.

Other people who have visited regularly in more recent times include a group of Kurdish refugees, who Helen says have been teaching the Kindling Trust’s team to make versions of traditional dishes from their country using the fresh veg grown at the hub.

The organisation also established Veg Box People and Veg People, two co-operative schemes which provide organic food at affordable prices to homes and businesses across Greater Manchester.

The Veg Box People scheme established by the Kindling Trust

The veg bags come in a range of options but the starter bag has always been £6 to make it as accessible as possible. People can also have a look round at where the food is grown and where it comes from if they pick it up from Woodbank.

Helen describes it as “a little food revolution in a bag” and says it is “about connecting people, farmers and nature”.

The Kindling Trust also has a number of high-profile customers for its organic food, including The University of Manchester and the People’s History Museum.

The organisation also runs Grow, Cook and Eat, a social prescribing service in Stockport with GPs which help residents with their health and wellbeing.

What has happened in the 15 years since the Kindling Trust was founded?

Helen admits that for all the Kindling Trust’s efforts in some ways there seems to have been little improvement in the overall health of the farming system or the environment in general in the years that it has been running.

However, despite any temptation to give in to despondency Helen is keen to reiterate all the benefits that can come from producing food differently.

She said: “It’s really quite sad looking back, because we’re in the same situation now as 20 years ago. Farmers aren’t getting paid the value of their food and it’s really hard work, and on the other side we’ve got communities trying to make decisions between heating their houses and feeding themselves.

“How we square that circle is where we’re coming from with the Kindling Trust.

“We’ve also got a food industry with food production and transport which is responsible for a significant proportion of our carbon emissions.

“We’ve been campaigning to stop climate change for 20 years and there are so many negative things the food industry is responsible for but we could change that.

“Food can be grown in a way that’s responsible, that can cut carbon emissions, that can encourage biodiversity rather than destroying it. It can be this amazing thing bringing people together and being a source of joy. I love eating and food and I discovered that growing food is a great thing to do.”

What does the future hold for the Kindling Trust?

When Helen and Chris founded the Kindling Trust their initial ambition was to have a large-scale farm, but they quickly realised that they needed to build up their experience and credibility with smaller projects first while also building up the market for organic food in Greater Manchester.

Now, though, they are looking to bring this long-held dream to reality and establish a site of between 100 and 200 acres in size within 50 miles of the city.

That will allow the organisation to explore concepts such as agro-forestry, where crops and vegetables are grown in between trees to increase wildlife habitat and diversity.

Having worked on everything from growing in very urban locations to helping farmers from every corner of the British Isles develop their skills through online training courses, Helen is very aware that solutions cannot be imposed top-down on people and communities have to work out what the best way to make food affordable and eco-friendly is for them.

The Kindling Trust is continuing to work on its long-held dream of having its own full-sized farm

Nevertheless, she says the farm will serve as an indication of what the Kindling Trust would like to see for the future of farming, which is much more local than it is currently and based heavily around consuming less meat and eating more seasonally.

Helen said: “Kindling Farm is the start of another bit of the journey for us. We want to work with other farmers there. It’s not about us saying we know the right thing to do, it’s about sorting this out together. I’ve never met a farmer that wants to trash their land.

“The ultimate vision is to have a fairer, more sustainable food system, lots of Kindling-type farms all over the country and lots of food hubs in everyone’s community.

“There people would be able to access food and eat in a healthy way, and farmers could farm in the way they would really like to, in harmony with nature and protecting the soil.

“We hope to show one way of doing that at Kindling Farm.”

The process of bringing Kindling Farm to life has had some ups and downs recently. The Kindling Trust raised more than £1m in a community share campaign and has around 600 members invested in the concept.

The organisation was then approached to buy a farm, only for the deal to fall through.

Helen admitted the organisation was worried that this would deter some of the supporters, but says actually the reverse has been true.

She said: “We had thought people might pull out when we told them we no longer had a farm, but actually lots more people invested and members stuck with us.

“It shows people believe in the model and vision of a better food system.”