It’s incredible, it’s edible, it’s Todmorden

September 24, 2011 by
Filed under: Public policy, The RSA 

I am writing this on the way back from a fantastic day in Todmorden, the home of Incredible Edible Todmorden. I can’t say catching the last train back to London from the bleak badlands of Stockport is my idea of a good Saturday night but the journey was certainly worth it.

I’m sure many of my readers will know about IET. It is a fantastic project based on the simple idea of local people growing food. The driving force behind the project is Pamela Warhurst. She told me the idea occurred to her and her friends after she heard a lecture by Professor Tim Lang, so there was a nice symmetry when my trip ended with me introducing Tim at a packed meeting in Todmorden’s wonderfully preserved Hippodrome Theatre.

Before the event I had been shown round the IET green route which included Pam’s original private rose garden, which is now a tiny public garden full of vegetables and herbs. My guide Estelle then showed me the raised beds planted by the canal, the places where standard issue municipal prickly bushes had been replaced with edible plants, and the health centre which has a border of strawberry plants maintained by a GP who used to grow strawberries in Poland as well as a raised bed planted with medicinal plants. Most of this has been done without asking for permission (or only asking for it after the planting) and all of it by volunteers.

The project is now having impacts across the town. Small businesses are being created including a soap maker who uses IET herbs. All the town’s schools are involved, especially the high school where a BTEC in agriculture is proving very popular and where a local sustainable fish farming social business in being developed. And in case IET sounds like it is one of those worthy but achingly middle class green initiatives, its ideas are also being implemented by a local social housing provider.

It is hardly surprising that visitors from all over the world are flocking to Todmorden to learn more about IET. Today, people from twenty existing or putative schemes like IET gathered to share ideas, discuss experiences and develop collaboration.

For me the project packed extra impact for two reasons. The first is that RSA Fellows have played an important role in developing supporting and publicising IET. I met some fantastic Fellows during the day, the kind of people who give the Society a good name whenever they mention their association. The second is that the project fits so well with the idea that we need to close the social aspiration gap (the gap between the future people say they want and the one we are likely to build unless we are willing to change some of the ways we think and act). I have said that closing the gap means encouraging people to be ‘more engaged, more resourceful and more pro-social’. By getting people to think about food and the impact of our food choices, in encouraging people to grow and cook their own food, and in mobilising volunteers from all sectors of the community IET as well as demonstrable building civic capacity IET is a microcosm of the new ways of living we need.

So, it’s ten to ten and we’ve only just left Stoke on Trent but, for once, I’m not complaining.



  • David Wilcox

    Just, thanks for taking the trouble to tap the iPad (I’m guessing) after a heavy day, in support of local enthusiasts. Makes me think I should re-apply:-)

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  • Julian Dobson

    Great to see you enthused! I think as well as being a fine model for being engaged, resourceful and pro-social, Incredible Edible Todmorden does two other really important things.

    First, it shows how we can think differently about place. The edible green route creates an identify for the town that is positive and about the future, not just about what the town used to be. There’s a lot that can be borrowed from that in a country dominated by drab and sad clone towns.

    Second, it points the way to a different approach to the local economy, with local supply chains based on relationships rather than global supply chains driven by price. It shows how small actions by local people have the potential to change the rules of the game.

  • Ian Christie

    A great post about a brilliant project. Julian is right about the wider implications – IET points towards a ‘relational economy’ instead of an increasingly ‘disembedded’ one in which most actors are many times removed from original producers and final users of goods.

  •, phil korbel

    ‘the bleak badlands of Stockport’ – ha ha. You should have popped by for a brew Matthew! [Great post BTW] Our new local ‘sustainable living’ group will be looking to ‘Tod’ for inspiration

    Phil Korbel – Heaton Mersey, Stockport…

  • Julian Dobson

    I always thought Stockport was the posh end of Greater Manchester…

  •, phil korbel

    It is Julian! couldn’t you detect the warm whiff of irony wafting from MT’s finely honed prose? ( there’ll be trouble if there isnt ;) )

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