Mary Clear

Mary Clear

Interviewed on 28.08.2012

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[TRACK 1]

 

TONY WRIGHT:

It’s the 28th of August 2012, this is Tony Wright and I’m talking to Mary Clear, and can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

 

MARY CLEAR:

Yes. My full name is Katherine actually, my first name, it’s a little Irish tradition never to call you a sensible name. Katherine Mary Clear, and I was born…….somewhere in Essex but it’s all a little bit vague where my beginnings were.

 

TW:

Oh right. And were you raised in Essex then?

 

MC:

I was raised in Essex for a little while and then I spent a lot of my early years in and out of children’s homes, so really I’ve travelled a lot.

 

TW:

Okay. Would you like to talk about any of that time? About what it was like when you were growing up?

 

MS:

Growing up was exciting….tough…..and if you think about it in context of today it’s most probably unbelievable – some of it’s unbelievable to me – but it made me the person I am, so I’m not unhappy about that in any way whatsoever.

 

TW:

Well I’d like to kind of jump ahead then in a way to like, how did you come to this area, Calderdale?

 

MC:

Well it was very strange because Eton Street, which is a couple of streets up from here we’re sitting now, I had a friend who lived in Eton Street and we used to travel from Hull to see her very regularly and we’d come through, there’s a bridge on the way to Calderdale off the motorway, and it’s like an eye, and when we used to come through that bridge, I felt a feeling in my heart that said ‘you’re coming home’ so every time we visited Jean in Eton Street, I felt stronger and stronger that I was being called to this valley, so as soon as our children all left home, the very first thing we did was sell our house and move to Calderdale.

 

TW:

Right. How long ago was that?

 

MC:

That was about twelve years ago.

 

TW:

Right okay.

 

MC:

And it still feels – if I go through that bridge – as powerful as when I first went through that bridge that says….that’s pulling you into the valley

 

TW:

That’s the bridge at Ainley Top is it?

 

MC:

Yes.

 

TW:

Yeah, okay, because when you come through that bridge you get this panoramic view of…..all around Halifax and Elland and all that isn’t it and……so have you ever worked out why you felt like you were coming home and what that meant?

 

MC:

No. I can only think…..that the beautiful surroundings - we’re surrounded by beauty - people who are born here maybe don’t get….if you’ve lived in Hull you’ll get it, that this is heaven on earth, so the drama of the landscape…..the warmth of the people, the closeness to nature…..

 

TW:

Right. So do you live in Todmorden is it?

 

MC:

I live in Todmorden, yes. And we chose to live in Todmorden because…we chose it because we’d come from a poor city and I’m driven by social justice, and…..I noticed that Hebden was very….a kind of white town, whereas Todmorden’s got a mosque, it’s got people from different parts of the world, very obviously settled in their little bits of the town, and it looked to me like things could be done in Todmorden.

 

TW:

Right, okay. I’ve just had a thought….when I asked you that first question you said you were from Essex but you didn’t say when.

 

MC:

I was born in 1955.

 

TW:

Right, okay. I just need that because when I put this on the website you will go under the 1950 to the 1959 category.

 

MC:

Excellent! What are we called? [laughing] Are we the…baby boomers….no we’re not are we?

 

TW:

No no, no names like that, no.

 

MC:

Excellent.

 

TW:

So you liked Tod because it was a mixture of people

 

MC:

Mixture of people

 

TW:

And more working class in a way

 

MC:

Yeah more working class yeah, a scratch and sniff town I’d say. You know, you never know what’s quite under the surface there; you never really get to know what’s going on.

 

TW:

Yeah, right. Now…what did you do there…..when you first moved there?

 

MC:

I managed to get a six month contract as a community worker, so it was fantastic because obviously I needed to get a job; I had a fantastic job in Hull, so what I did was I went part-time in Hull; it was a part-time job in Todmorden and I commuted from…so I lived half the week in Todmorden and half in Hull, and then my husband, it took him six months to get a job in youth justice, which was his chosen field, and then gradually I got a……..a full-time contract so then I could break away from Hull and live here permanently.

 

TW:

And then what kind of work did you do, as community development?

 

MC:

Well it was fabulous. Talking to people, being good to people, connecting people and, best of all, finding out things.

 

TW:

Right, okay…..so, how did you get involved then with the Incredible Edibles of Todmorden?

 

MC:

Well, about four years ago….Pam and I already knew each other as busy women do. She helped me with the railway station; the railway station needed someone to look after it, so we started decorating, making a library, planting planters on the railway station, then we were looking after a big Grade I listed building – the Unitarian Church – and, because I live in the middle of town, she was coming home from a conference with Timothy Lang and she was really depressed about the future of the planet and she’s much more educated than me; she knows all that stuff about global warming which I don’t even think about really because I’d get upset, and she’d worked out that maybe there was another way of doing things, so we had several pots of coffee, got a bit high, got a pen and paper; my daughter at one point was in the room and said ‘why don’t you call it Incredible Edible Todmorden? And what we thought we’d do, in essence, is we’d create a kinder world….because we believe that as humans we’ve got everything. We can make the deserts green if we choose to, to play golf; we can feed all the people of the world if we choose to; we can send a person to the moon; we can collide invisible things in tubes in Switzerland; we can do anything, so what’s wrong? Why are so many people suffering? It comes down to…..in our belief, lack of kindness, so we’re modelling a kinder world to reconnect people with the earth, with the planet, with each other…….and because we didn’t want an Empire, we didn’t…..we wanted to be solely….of our own energy and ethic, so we said…we’d no office, no staff, no stamps, no filing cabinet…..what could we use to make a kinder world……and a membership? And we thought ‘we’ll use food; it crosses all cultures…..everybody does it, so the membership is if you eat you’re in, so we don’t need to do any paperwork, which we both hate, so that was our idea for membership; we thought we wouldn’t need to start; we wouldn’t need anything, because….food is….I was gonna say mankind……humankind’s gift to each other; we all know how to do it. Everyone’s an expert in their own…..field of food, even if it’s what people call crap food……so, we thought then, by growing, cooking and learning, and helping people get jobs all around food, that’s our tiny contribution to a kinder world.

 

TW:

Right. That’s quite a vision really.

 

MC:

Well to be honest we developed it in….we’re clearer about the social justice element of it. As time’s gone on we’ve seen that our small acts, people laughed at us growing food in public and letting complete strangers take it, but those small acts of kindness and the idea of……if we think about peace……if we wanted to make world peace and we tried to make a movement for world peace, peace is equated with war….war is equated with politics. Kindness is not…..there’s no political connotation; there’s no war; it’s not too big. Both me and you, this very minute, could do something kind. We could just pick up a coke can out of the street and put it in the bin; that’s kindness. We could……let someone go in the queue in front us, so we’re basing our actions on something. As humans we’re hard wired to say ‘yes’; we’re not hard wired to say ‘no’; we’re hard wired actually to be kind.

 

TW:

Right. So…..you’ve just mentioned growing food and letting strangers have it. How did you go about…..growing food in public? I mean what was the first thing that you did?

 

MC:

Well the first thing we did, we said ‘what can we use? What’s everybody got? Seeds…..we’ll do a swap. We’ll ask people to come up to a building we’re already looking after, bring up plants, tools, books, magazines….swap stuff; just start talking to each other’ and then we started….we would turn ugly places into beautiful places, so we’ve only ever taken land that’s rubbish land, so…..especially dog toilets; we love them, because we’ve noticed that if you take somewhere ugly and make it beautiful, it stays beautiful, and….you know, crime…..environmental crime’s down eighteen per cent in Todmorden, purely because we’ve targeted the ugliest areas, so we took bus stops, car parks; I don’t work for the Council any more so I can be open about this…..bits of land that belong to other people that was neglected, and then sometimes we asked permission and sometimes we didn’t, because life’s too short to ask permission

 

TW:

I was going to ask about that; did you have to negotiate with companies or the Council or what have you?

 

MC:

We would have liked to have negotiated if we had more faith in humans….but we thought we would get on with it, and then if people don’t like it they can…..they can just plough it up, so we thought it would be quicker just to do it, so we did negotiate. For instance the police station, which is the most famous planting in Todmorden, which is filled with vegetables….I did start to negotiate with the police and they said ‘Mary, this is a hierarchical organisation, so you’re asking the wrong man. I’d have to ask a man above me, he’d ask a man above him and….so why don’t you just do it?’….now that’s what I remember them saying, so we did it! And now, you know, that image of the police growing food outside of their station has gone all around the world, and the police are so proud of what’s out the front of their police station; I’m quite sure they must have made those beds themselves, because things get lost in the telling of the tale…..in a good way.

 

TW:

Okay, so….was it vegetables you wanted to grow or…herbs

 

MC:

As long as it was edible, because that way you can share it with someone a lot easier, and we wanted…….you know, it truly is true that a lot of children are totally unaware that outside of a chiller cabinet in Morrison’s, that broccoli could grow in your town, on your bus stop, at your police station, at your railway station, so it is important, and I’ve had fifty-year old women who’ve seen Brussels sprouts and said ‘how do you get them little cabbages to grow upwards like that?’ so, you know, people have no idea.

 

TW:

Right. So is there an education sort of side of it?

 

MC:

Oh absolutely. About learning where food comes from…..of course. And learning what it looks like, because……I don’t have a television any more, because I’ve seen that television in itself has created a world that doesn’t exist. Let’s take gardening programmes……they’ve soft pornorised it; they’ve air-brushed it; the women are attractive; there aren’t any big fat women showing gardening programmes; everybody’s a certain size, a certain look….they’re well educated people; the cabbages don’t get full of slugs and holes; you know the reality of gardening is dirty; fat people can do it; people who smoke can do it; you know, gardening is about untidiness and dirtiness and not always looking beautiful, so……people have begun to relate, so they try a garden, they try to grow vegetables; it doesn’t look like the coffee table book or what’s on TV, so they’ve failed, so we wanted to show people…. ‘look, at this time of year they come up, at that time of the year they die down’ so you get to be part of your natural living world, to see food.

 

TW:

I’m curious about……because I know when I go into Tod, I mean I tend to do my shopping in Tod I must say because it’s just so much better really……and there’s like, you know, pots of things growing along the canal, there’s stuff in the square, all over the place, by the medical centre, you know, and all the other places that you’ve mentioned…..and it’s like ‘this is fantastic’ and I just wondered about…..have people been greedy and like one night they nick everything…how does that work? [laughing]

 

MC:

You’ve asked me the gift question, so I’m gonna tell you some little stories about…..about greed and….and the perception of greed in a movement about kindness, so the very first year we thought ‘what is really expensive and what is something that’s health giving, very expensive, and older people’….we often like to think of older people because they’ve no voice left any more….rhubarb…they love rhubarb; good for their bowels, but hugely expensive, so we planted rhubarb everywhere we could; we spent a lot of money on rhubarb, and the first season, within days, every bit of rhubarb was gone. We all had an emergency rhubarb meeting; we scratched our heads; we worried; who was this person? Who was doing it? And then we came up with the answer. Plant more rhubarb; we didn’t plant enough; we should plant more, so that’s the first learning lesson about things going. Then the next one was……we have a man who sometimes comes to Todmorden and I call him the seed tramp; you know, he’s absolutely from a story book, completely in rags with his long hair, carrying bundles, and he’d been sleeping at the railway station by the side of our bed and one day the man from the station ran out; he said ‘Mary Mary, guess what? That tramp has taken all the potatoes’ and I just said ‘oh that’s so beautiful’ and to me, that’s why I do it. For a tramp to take the potatoes, that is just so beautiful, and then another thing….the Big Issue seller, who’s a woman from an Eastern European country – in Todmorden – she comes from Rochdale maybe on the train, and I’d planted some big stands of lovage and one day I saw her with a machete, a little machete [mobile phone ringing]…stop……

 

TW:

You were talking about the machete.

 

MC:

The machete; well, the Big Issue seller from Eastern Europe, well I saw her one day with the machete, and a big bag, and she went up to the lovage and she just hacked it down - it grows really high, it grows about eight foot high – she hacked the lot down and stuffed it in the bag; I thought ‘ooh I wanna run out and tell her ‘do stop doing that with the machete’ and then I thought about it and I read up about it, and how….smell is one of those senses that when we smell things and it’s….people with dementia they’ve found this from, it evokes more memory of home than any other sense, and I felt really guilty for being cross, so what I’ve done is, I’ve just planted more lovage for her, and I recommend to all other growing towns, the smell of lovage is so…..potent a smell of home to people from European countries, it really means a lot, and I know she will have gone back to Rochdale or Burnley with her bag of lovage and distributed it amongst that community, because it does mean a lot to them that, and when I smell it myself now I just think of the word ‘home’ for people.

 

TW:

Right….right…..well to take the opposite now. Do you grow things that people just aren’t interested in and they just kind of….go to seed or…just left?

 

MC:

Oh of course, of course….it’s not a perfect art. A group of volunteers gardening a town is never….that’s never going to be like your own garden, so of course that happens and in the beginning……..people didn’t want to pick things because we live in a culture that says ‘get off my land, keep off my stuff, don’t lean over my hedge and pick my flowers’ so it was a lot of…..we have a page a month in our local paper; a lot of it was about….. ‘it’s time to pick the strawberries at the doctor’s….don’t touch the apples yet; they’ll be ready soon’…so, things are wasted, things do go to seed, and that’s just part of….nobody’s ever done it before, having a public landscape….that’s……vegetables, but in a way that kind of shows the full cycle as well; I mean, when an angelica has its seed head, you know sometimes the seed itself is so fabulous.

 

TW:

Can you tell me a bit more about….because you planted…..an orchard in the graveyard I believe, was it?

 

MC:

No we’ve got a nutwood orchard in the graveyard at Unitarian. We’ve got some children’s growing beds in the graveyard of the closed church on Burnley Road, because the school next to it - we’ve got six schools in Todmorden - and they’re all growing….trying to do something about growing food. Some have got chickens, and most of them use our incubator and hatch chickens at Easter time, so…..the Church of England has got no growing land at all, so we negotiated with the Church of England to use space in the graveyard, which is brilliant; great soil, great space, and great for the dead, you know, I just think of that….the….the laughter of little children, the little children learning to grow food; what a greater nod to a…..to another life, and a future.

 

TW:

Okay….I’m just curious about……you expanding, I mean are you always looking for new bits of land or is there….have you got enough land for volunteers so to speak? How does that work?

 

MC:

We’re definitely not expanding. My job…..I’m the lead for the community in Incredible Edible so I’ll just explain the structure of Incredible Edible. So…..it’s very complicated but I’m gonna try it for you….and it’s grown organically, and most probably some would say out of control; some nights it feels out of control! So, in the middle is a group of people; they’re called the Steering Group Incredible Edible Todmorden Unlimited, so we’re unincorporated, we’re unlimited; nobody takes a wage, no office, stamps, phones, nothing; everything’s done with our personal resources…..so we’re Unlimited Todmorden and our job is to bring….to have Todmorden something to point at and with…with a heart of what’s now become a worldwide movement…..we say it’s not about an Empire, so we’ve got three elements to Incredible Edible: Learning - Lifelong Learning from the cradle to cradle - so that’s from the tiniest child to somebody in a residential home; people with learning difficulties; learning right across the board….we’ve got Business - that’s encouraging businesses, employment, training; and we’ve got Community - bringing people together using food, celebrating….and vegetable tourism, that really would come under Business. So, we say to anybody ‘if you could spin one of those plates, you might start with community – barbecues, parties; or you might start with businesses - encouraging cafes to buy locally; you can become an Incredible Edible town’ so at the moment there are thirty-two other Incredible Edible projects in England, and then across the world, France has gone crazy; there’s one new place in France a day, so the French have taken into it in a big way, and then Australia and America, there are places bubbling up…tribal Indians, all sorts of people, so we give them their trade mark because we’ve had it trademarked; we give it to them and off they go and do their thing…..and then within Todmorden, there are now two community interest companies. Incredible Edible Growing….they have a huge site at Walsden and that is going to be The Market Garden Training Centre for people…unemployed people; perhaps people on probation, perhaps people on the wobbly side of life, who get an opportunity to learn new skills, so that’s….they’re growing food right now; they’re specialising in weeds actually, and selling them to restaurants, and then we’ve got the country’s first ever….it’s called Incredible Edible Todmorden Limited, brackets (Food Hub) so for short we call it The Food Hub; that’s the High School; that’s a company…..the directors are half people from the High School; teachers, pupils……and half people from the community, and they’ve got a five hundred thousand pound project which will see the first school in England with pigs, turkeys, chickens, orchards, bee hives, and they’re going to grow shrimps aquaponically. The whole curriculum has changed within that school, so food and the land is at the heart of geography, technology, history….everything; the learning environment is about edible food, so the curriculum’s changing and they are the first people in the Calder Valley to teach land-based training skills, so these have now…these will be the farmers of the future. So we have representatives of those companies on our Steering Group.

 

TW:

I see.

 

MC:

So it’s a ….it’s grown because it is about….normally an organisation has its brand and keeps it like that. We’re a giving away movement, so we say whatever we’ve got, whatever ideas we’ve got, whoever insures us, our constitution, our accounts, everything is on the website…..completely open; anybody just to take it, so we’ll give you an example. The BBC have a programme called The Incredible Edibles; did they contact us about that? No they did not. Were we a little bit miffed? Yes we were, then we corrected ourselves. This is about giving away, so if children are learning about……vegetables and people weren’t polite to us, let it be. You know, people have bought our books; I think……some guy has recently bought our book called Incredible Edibles, so we just say ‘well that’s okay, because it….we can’t control it with no office or staff, so we’ll just let it go out there and see what happens.

 

TW:

So have you got the copyright on that title?

 

MC:

We’ve got the top copyright with a proviso with the BBC, because of course the BBC copyrighted all food products. Saucepans, tea towels, knives, books….but we’ve got an agreement because it’s obvious we were here first. They won’t sue us and we won’t sue them, well obviously we couldn’t sue them; we haven’t any money to sue them, so we’ll just live in peace together and, because of course we have a book published on the twenty-first….we have a book about an apple which will be given to every school child in…..the Upper Valley, so…..a writer’s written it free for us and so….it’s just about growing an apple.

 

TW:

Right okay, that’s very interesting that. I’m curious because I remember watching a television programme with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I think his name is, and he came to Todmorden to talk to you and they did a little slot on one of his TV shows. How did that go down? What did you think about that?

 

MC:

……….well we’ve done so many TV shows since then. The….we’re in a very interesting predicament….first of all I don’t have a TV so obviously I’m not so interested, so……we have a film crew maybe….once a month…..there was a month this year where we had a Brazilian crew on one end of the town, a German crew on another and a French crew negotiating to come and we were trying to keep them all separate, so there’s a strange desire in a world which we’re brought up to believe you’re the same as me, the same message you’ll hear; the world’s only interested in bad news. Well I must correct people. The world is interested in good news. They might be thinking ‘oh we’re just a bunch of silly dippy hippies, but we’ve not got any…..anybody who recruits press; we have never ever made a press statement ever, so the press from all over the world have come to us because they believe it’s a powerful message, so…..the things we’re interested in, just to go back to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; that’s fantastic, he’s a lovely man, it was a great day, the sun shone, lots of people loved it and….but more to the point is….this Saturday we’re in the Daily Mirror; two pages in the Daily Mirror. For us to be in the Daily Mirror is worth one thousand million times more, because we’re interested in the people least likely to know about us, so we were on Songs of Praise not long ago; again, fantastic, great power capturing people who we believe should be growing food. It’s in their book, ‘feed the people, get fishes and loaves’ and all that stuff; they should be doing that kind of….they should be modelling kindness every second of the day, so you know, some things have got more value than others. Here’s an interesting one: two guys from a Brazilian TV company, they said ‘we’re coming from Brazil, we wanna do a little film’ we were so embarrassed; Brazil, it’s a long way, ‘we’ve got sixty million in our audience’ and they were filming the police station and our sergeant was showing him the vegetables, and saying ‘smell these herbs’ and the Brazilian television producer said to me ‘Mary, you….you cannot understand that in a country where guns are carried, where people disappear in the back of police vans never to be seen again, the impact in Brazil to see a British policeman who apparently are lauded as the icon of policing across the world, showing us vegetables’ so it’s interesting…..what people want to see.

 

TW:

Well that’s….I mean that was gonna be my next question, is that when you said you had the three crews there in one day from three different countries, I mean obviously you may not have seen all three of them or been there, but…I wondered what each of them asked; were they after different kinds of things or was it just

 

MC:

Most of them can’t believe that…first of all the people…..people come and I love it when people are open about it because then when people say it we answer it; they say ‘doesn’t it all get stolen?’… ‘no’ ..‘do dogs shit on it?’..‘no’.. ‘do people destroy it?’.. ‘no’.. ‘what do the authorities think?’.. ‘they love it’.. so you know, they’re full of those questions, they’re full of those questions…. ‘how could this be? How could……people allow other people to pick food in the street’ so yeah they most probably just want to know……but now it will be normal, trust me, in another five years’ time, there’s housing development all over the world being built now with one hundred per cent edible landscapes, and sometimes I wanna cry. The government announced last Tuesday….Eric Pickles….there was a huge announcement from the government… ‘in future land will be made freely available to communities who want to grow food’….now in my heart I know that for four years Pam and I have travelled the country to politicians, banging on, banging on, and so we know that what we do is really worth it.

 

TW:

That’s great. You were saying earlier about….like France has gone for this in a big way and Australia and other countries……do you get feedback from these people? Obviously they’ve been in touch with you or seen your stuff

 

MC:

We’ve….we’re having a world website. We can’t physically manage…..you know, the average age of the people in the steering group is sixty plus, and we’re at full capacity now so from eight o’clock in the morning till I go to bed, there’s a constant stream of e-mails from across the world; there’s….we share calendars where we all talk across the country and I’m going to Poland and then Liege and then another place…..and Amsterdam….Pam will come back and go to Northern Ireland, we’ve got to go to Rio Janeiro but we don’t want to go, because we can’t….we don’t want to become princesses, and we don’t want to burn energy travelling the world, but I think…..the BBC are looking at making a long series, so that might help us , and the only way….lots of people have asked us to make films and we’ve said ‘no’ because they want tears at bedtime, tension and anger, and you know, this is about kindness; we’re not gonna do that, and we have to keep saying ‘no’….so hopefully….there’s a beautiful man in Hebden Bridge; on our website we’ve got a film made by Steve Hay, and I asked him to make me a film for three thousand pounds because someone promised me three thousand pounds and in the end, so he started to make a film; he said ‘well a film costs lots more than three thousand pounds, but because I believe in you I’ll do it for three thousand’ and then I didn’t get the three thousand pounds, so a friend said ‘I’ll give you eight hundred pounds of my own money’ so I said to Steve ‘I’ve got eight hundred pounds of my friend’s money to pay you off; I’m sorry’ and he said ‘I’m not gonna take your friend’s money; I’ll just make the film’ so on our website we’ve got a beautiful film on the front; you know, it was so embarrassing and difficult to say we didn’t have the money but it’s worked out great, you know, thousands of people have viewed it, it’s a beautiful…..so…..we believe everything’s possible in the world, so whether it’s big media or…..it’s the small things, like talking to you because you’ll interact with children, have got more value to us than flying about being fancy pants.

 

TW:

Have you never wanted to go down the road then of trying to get funding for….for various parts of your project?

 

MC:

When we’re….when we’ve……got maybe fifty e-mails we haven’t answered, we wish we had help and then we think this, and always remember this – who’s gonna manage that person? Who’s going to….you know, we can’t take the money; we can’t be paid ourselves….how would that happen? Do we want to……this movement that’s starting to grow around the world…..partly inspired by the fact that people have done it for nothing……we come back to the answer which is no; we have tried to give it away; we have approached another organisation and said ‘we’ve got a network across the world and across this country; would you like it, because you’ve got lots of staff and lots of money’ and they didn’t take it, so [laughing]….the baby is still with us!

 

TW:

Well I mean……they place in……in Walsden which is by Gordon Rigg’s the garden centre isn’t it?

 

MC:

Yes, yes

 

TW:

And also the thing at the High School now you told me about

 

MC:

Yes

 

TW:

Do you think there might be…….

 

MC:

When they get going they’ll

 

TW:

Well let’s say in a few years….some people will come out of those who continue, because they’re younger, they kind of could join the Steering Group

 

MC:

Yes yes yes, absolutely, but just when we think we can’t go on, someone pops up….you know, someone says ‘I’ve just moved to Tod’…..lots of people have said ‘we moved to Todmorden because we saw it on TV and we felt it had a sense of community; how can we help you?’ so……when the chips are really down something always turns up.

 

TW:

Right, okay………do you think you or any other member of the Steering Group, because you’re saying the average age is sixty and there’s a ….. you will get to a point, well obviously people will retire…..and might have a continuing interest in it, but not have the energy that they once had; how do you think that will

 

MC:

Everything has its life……..and things ebb and flow; I’ve……I’ve seen so many organisations, that’s my background…….things come and go, things change……..I’ll just carry on every single day…….Incredible Edible……….which is strange in our own town, people will go ‘I don’t know about it’ – you can go to London and fifty people will go ‘wow, Incredible Edible Lambeth, Incredible Edible Westminster’ …….you know, we’ve been to parliament so many times, we’re just familiar with it, so things change and it might be…..it just might not happen here, or it might happen more in Sowerby Bridge, who knows? And I think it takes so much energy…….that it’s best not to waste your energy because I want to say, and be clear about that too…..we’re also a movement that is not party political and that’s been really hard because each party would like us to be their own baby, so you know, when we go to the House of Lords and we’re meeting with Tory Lords, fabulous…..if we meet with Labour Lords, that’s fabulous, so of course we’re political, the person…..this is a political movement but it’s not party political, and the other thing is we’re not negative campaigners, so Todmorden has got planning applications for supermarkets and people have jumped to the conclusion ‘Incredible Edible, who are brilliant campaigners and publicity seekers, they will lead the campaign against it’……we are living in a supermarket culture; people need jobs and employment, and that is not where our energies are, so….if there’s something people don’t like, we’d stop doing it; if there’s a garden…..if there’s somewhere people don’t want us to have, we let go, so we let go and only stay focused on what’s doable.

 

TW:

What about all the farmers? I mean I know there’s not that many around these days in this part of the world, but up on the tops there, there are farmers still engaged in that kind of activity. Have any of them spoken to you or engaged?

 

MC:

Well that was the very first thing we did, was call a meeting in a place with a bar for farmers; it was a very difficult meeting, but we know as a result of that meeting, the farmers that have engaged with us have had to increase their…..because obviously…..farmers are farmers; we’ve got a website that’s free marketing, we’ve got a brand – come to Todmorden – we’ve local food, we’ve got blackboards in the market on the butchers’ stands that tell you where the farms…..the demand for local food cannot meet supply, so for those who’ve seen the light, it’s brilliant.

 

TW:

Right, that’s very interesting really, yeah…..and most of these farmers, are they all family businesses still or have some of them been taken over by

 

MC:

Family businesses, family businesses. I mean, the scary thing is, horsy culture as we call it, the rich just coming in and buying farms and letting…..or llamas…..I mean I don’t think you even eat llamas

 

TW:

It might just be for……for the wool as it were

 

MC:

I think more like, sorry to say, a rich person’s hobby.

 

TW:

I couldn’t say, I couldn’t say; I know it would be very expensive I’m pretty sure, or alpaca as well really…..right……you see I…..I went to a conference that you gave in the church……some months back now, and I did……it was about co-operatives; people who grew food or had, you know, different kinds of

 

MC:

Oh that wasn’t run by us, yes

 

TW:

Oh I thought that was

 

MC:

No no, that wasn’t; that was run by Mark Simmonds.

 

TW:

I know Mark

 

MC:

Yes, that was his……that was his conference in the church

 

TW:

You were part of it weren’t you?

 

MC:

Yes yes.

 

TW:

Right yes. Well no no, I thought…..I mean I know Mark and I asked him and I went along and I videoed all the speakers and the cider press, and how to do all that, I videoed that, because……although they’re not part of Incredible Edibles, they’re creating apple orchards all around this area

 

MC:

Absolutely, absolutely

 

TW:

Which is a different thing altogether really

 

MC:

Yes we’re very keen; we’ve created three…..we’ve planted nearly a thousand fruit trees, all in public access, preferably by housing estates, because what is the last thing a poor person’s gonna plant in their garden is a tree, you know, people in social housing have got to get a pram, a buggy, bikes, the Rottweiler, the shed; they’re not gonna have an apple tree, so Pennine Housing, the social landlord here, has been one hundred per cent supportive and allowed us to plant trees over all of their lands.

 

TW:

Right. Now they take a bit of looking after do apple trees

 

MC:

They do take a bit of looking after, and one of the things that I would think is that we don’t have enough of a scheme to look after those, so…..you know, the whole thing is an experiment and we’re just saying ‘we just hit the ground running, doing what we could’ but on reflection of all the things, how do we do it again is more useful to new groups than how successful we’ve been. Do you know what I mean? Mistakes are everything, and we’re open and honest because it’s so free when there is no money involved, you can be open and honest. I’m not a gardener, I’m not an expert, you know, I’ve never got up on stages and spoke to hundreds of people, but I’ve had to get used to it, so…..

 

TW:

Well you do bee keeping as well

 

MC:

Yes there’s a separate group, Community Bee Keeping, so for that we got a forty-four thousand pounds lottery grant to train up new bee keepers and create community bee keeping groups which is fantastic, so the bee is absolutely integral to the story of life, and ‘by industry we prosper’ is the old…..what do you call it for the town….the town’s motto

 

TW:

Oh of Todmorden, is it?

 

MC:

Todmorden’s town motto is ‘by industry we prosper’ – the sign of industry is the bee – we have no industry, so we’ve branded all along our green route that we’ve created for vegetable tourism, we’ve put the bee and our old town motto so

 

TW:

When you say vegetable tourism, I know when I phoned you last week to set up this interview you said you were taking groups of…..I think it was Japanese was it, and maybe a German group as well?

 

MC:

Yes.

 

TW:

Tell me about this tourism.

 

MC:

Well, the tourism thing is…..that’s the thing that’s gonna keep us alive. Four years ago we sat round having coffee; if you’d have said ‘what are all the things that might happen out of this movement?’ Well vegetables and kindness; we’d have never said tourism, and we have tours every single week, sometimes two a day, of people from all over the world who just wanna come and look at vegetables, so what we did…..remember that business, to keep a town alive, and we don’t care what business it is, there’s nothing….we’re really broad in everything, so lots of people are vegans and vegetarians in our movement, but we don’t care whether it’s butchers or vegetables, so we decided on the back of tourism, just to draw a line round the town to keep people near shops, so we….the tour guide - we’ve trained up tour guides - they meet people at the railway station and we’ve created a route - I should have brought you a map - we’ve printed maps that take you round the town and at the same time, it tells the story of the bee and pollination, just to meet the needs, and now we’ve really grown up. From last week……we noticed that a lot of people sometimes say ‘how much will it cost?’ and we’ve always said ‘nothing’ so now we want to make ourselves fully sustaining, so we’re just saying, you know, ‘it’s five pounds a head to come on a tour; you get a presentation…..’ we take them in the market, so they shop at the stalls that have got the Incredible Edible local products; it’s really good, and people are more than happy to pay; it’s brilliant.

 

TW:

You’re saying you have one every week, just about?

 

MC:

Yeah, yep.

 

TW:

Well……where do these groups come from?

 

MC:

……….I can tell you…….[looking through paperwork]…..Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Friday…..Australia, but you know, people have heard about us, they’re in the country, they’ll say ‘can I book a tour?’

 

TW:

So people approach you?

 

MC:

People approach us

 

TW:

You don’t sort of say ‘every Tuesday at twelve o’clock we’ll do one and anyone

 

MC:

No no, we started….we did tours…. ‘every third Sunday of the month, meet at this point; you can just come on a tour’, so that’s open to anybody – no booking – now people just e-mail us and say ‘I’ve seen Pam’s talk or I’ve heard this, can I come on a tour?’ Housing associations, tenants groups…..youth groups, poorer people from other estates wanna make a green route to work or school, so

 

TW:

How many do you normally get on a tour?

 

MC:

Well, we’re having to cap it for the ability of the tour guide to tell the story, so we’re saying that eight, we need two….if it’s more than eight we need two tour guides, so we have done whole coaches; forty people at a time! So, and that’s…..we’ve learnt….well remember we’re not gardeners, we’re not tour guides, we’re not experts in anything, so we had no idea how to tour people, you know, we experimented with vests and jackets and embroidered waistcoats and we’ve just gone back to basics now I think [laughing], so, yeah, it’s a strange phenomena, but that money is keeping us alive; that pays for our printing, it pays ……for paperwork, for seeds, for tools, and then we say ‘if you have money, pay us; if you have no money, bring us a present’, so you’ll see now in Todmorden, in Pollination Street for instance, you’ll see a blueberry planted and brought by such-and-such a group, so they bring something from their garden or community and plant it in our town, which actually we like more than money.

 

TW:

Yeah I can see that, yeah…….well…….I’m just wondering…..is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you might wanna talk about? Anything I haven’t brought up?

 

MC:

……………..vegetables…..come to the Harvest Festival, 30th September.

 

TW:

Okay.

 

MC:

Because it’s a great place to…..oh, we’re doing a European programme with five other countries………..Slovenia……East Germany, France, Ireland and us; it’s called a grunvig, so that just means people from Todmorden go to…..the other countries to learn about growing and they come here, so again, you know, these things happen….and it doesn’t stop…..it doesn’t stop or start with vegetables; it’s just the thing to make community, it’s just a tool.

 

TW:

I do have one question.

 

MC:

Yes.

 

TW:

What’s your remedy for getting rid of slugs then?

 

MC:

Slug pellets [laughing]

 

TW:

Which leads me on to….is all your stuff organic?

 

MC:

Well, you can get organic slugs pellets

 

TW:

Yes that’s true

 

MC:

You can, you know, there’s……no. In word…..we really really feel from a social justice perspective that humans are very clever creatures, and we wanna start with people where they’re at, so I do want to tell you about this…..our latest…..last year we delivered over a thousand learning sessions – how to skin a rabbit, how to keep chickens, make jam, bread-making,……mainly to The Guardian readers. This year, we’re concentrating on listening to silence; listening to…….who are the people that wouldn’t come, couldn’t come, would feel embarrassed to come, so we’re gonna work in people’s homes up on the estates; we’re going to choose an area – we’ve chosen Harley Bank – and area with back-to-back housing and people that are struggling to find time or the ability or the health to do things, and create beautiful gardens with that community, so we wanna work with people where they’re at, so if people want to……it’s just like if people just want to eat chips, let’s grow potatoes; if people wanna use slug pellets, fantastic, but when people make the connection between what I put on the soil and what I put in my mouth, people will make that themselves, and come to their own thoughts.

 

TW:

Can you get a lot of free muck from farmers then?

 

MC:

You can get masses of free muck from farmers, but…….muck has to be matured and I think, you know, I know my own daughter was given a load of free muck and she’s now got a little stand of corn growing in one corner of her garden [laughing]….where it wasn’t properly ripe!

 

TW:

Yes, okay…….well I think that that’s probably getting

 

MC:

Excellent

 

TW:

Getting near the time……..I did have something else running through my head and I just can’t pull it back now……..no, it’s gone; maybe I’ll remember it in a minute

 

MC:

The future the past………children……..the school will be ready in…..maybe October

 

TW:

Right, okay

 

MC:

That will be…….that will be the first in the country……..it may fail

 

TW:

It’s a fascinating…..well experiment, I’ll call it that, but

 

MC:

It is an experiment, and we cannot say anything else; none of this…..we’ve no-one to copy; we’re doing our own thing…….and…..the best lessons are learned by failure…….so, maybe

 

TW:

Okay, well I’d just like to say thank you very much for talking to me.

 

MC:

A pleasure.

 

TW:

I’ll just put that on there…..right, one final question. I mean you started with talking about food connects lots of different kinds of people, and you can see how you’ve done that through different parts of….growing things, from the police to churches to schools to estates, all of that, but this message that you had of kindness; how do you think that’s developed through all of this?

 

MC:

Well we can….we can never measure it, but when I go to the doctor’s and I think ‘I’ll pick some blackcurrants’ and I see twenty people with their little margarine tubs, picking……old grannies, young people, picking food, I think they know that somebody else has done that for them, for them to benefit; the fact that none of our stuff is damaged…..the fact that……whenever we need something, whether it’s a gate moving or a thousand pounds, we can ask somebody; we never ask unless we need it, and they’ll give it to us…..the fact that the police, the health authority, the Council, have supported us……the fact that I see people, ordinary Joes, taking their family and friends on the towpath going ‘oh, look at that’….. ‘look at this’ and when I see people saying ‘I saw our town on the telly’…..that sense of pride…….the acceptance of it all says to me that people are getting it, and where people don’t get the message, I think it creates a conversation, and whether that conversation is about ‘what are they talking about? Global warming? What are they talking about?’ We can feed the world……that’s all we need; we need to just keep that going; keep that conversation going. I have to believe to keep going myself, particularly now I’m not, you know, I’ve given up my job; I’ve given up working to devote myself completely to something I believe in, so I……it’s hard for me to express it to you, but I see it in people walking past; in people touching and sniffing and……snippets of conversation; I believe it’s true.

 

TW:

Right, okay, well fair enough then, yes. Okay, well thank you again.

 

MC:

Jolly good…..right, excellento!

 

[END OF TRACK 1]

 

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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