Vale of Glamorgan My Food Community Story

Louise Denham, coordinator of the Vale of Glamorgan Food Partnership, shares her story of her participation in the Soil Association's My Food Community leadership course. 

Soil Association Food For Life

Originally writtten by Sian-Elin of Food Sense Wales, Our Nation Partner.

Louise Denham is the Co-ordinator of Food Vale, a local food partnership in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales that’s part of the Sustainable Food Places network.

Louise Denham, Food Vale Co-ordinator

As a partnership of dedicated individuals, community groups, organisations and businesses, Food Vale is working to build a thriving, healthy and sustainable food system in the Local Authority Area.  Louise Denham’s work co-ordinating this activity is integral to the partnership’s success and last year, the Vale of Glamorgan was awarded Bronze Sustainable Food Places Status, a prestigious accolade that recognises pioneering work promoting healthy and sustainable food.

An experienced co-ordinator, facilitator and convenor, Louise was already an active food leader, but starting her role with Food Vale during the pandemic meant that connecting with others was more challenging than she’d anticipated.  When the opportunity came about to take part in My Food Community, a food leadership programme led by Food For Life Get Togethers, Louise jumped at the chance to learn; to build new networks and to further develop her skills.

“The My Food Community leadership course came at an opportune time for me – having started a new post co-ordinating the Food Vale Partnership at a time when local community action and organisational efforts were significantly disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Louise.  “Everything had moved online – working from home, and connecting with other people and groups in the good food movement was a difficult task. When I received an email inviting me to apply to be part of a new Food Leadership course that had been designed to build knowledge, develop leadership skills and connect with others championing good food across the UK, I was quick to put myself forward.”

My Food Community is an accelerated leadership programme for community food organisers and focuses on ‘championing good food’ in the community through food that’s good for climate, nature and health. The year-long programme is designed to inspire and support members to build knowledge – learning collectively and individually – and access useful resources.  It also enables members to connect with others who are championing good food in their communities, and to develop leadership skills, empowering them to take action and lead positive change for good food.

“The opportunity to connect with others was of particular value to me, and I was able to see the variety of stakeholders involved in the local food system in the Vale reflected in the other participants of the course,” continues Louise.  “This gave me excellent insight into the perspectives of these stakeholders and the challenges they faced, and helped me understand how to best engage with them in a way that harnessed the best of what we could both offer whilst respecting where their capacity may be limited.

“The Learning and Inspiration sessions also had a significant impact on my work as Food Vale co-ordinator, and linked closely in with the challenge of how to grow a local good food movement – a challenge faced by food partnerships across the UK.”

My Food Community is a year-long programme and in its first year, saw 47 learners take part.  This year (2022-23) has seen even more community leaders get involved with 77 participants from across the UK.

Everyone taking part in the My Food Community programme is given a Leadership Action Grant to run a project that will positively impact their community and utilise their learnings.

Louise decided to use the grant to fund a festival in the Vale of Glamorgan, benefitting the local area as well as allowing her to use and practice what she’s learnt during the programme.

“The grant funding available through this programme enabled us to carry out the second Food Vale Festival, after piloting the project the previous year. The festival consisted of a collection of community and business-led local activities which sought to engage citizens with food and growing and get them involved in the good food movement in the Vale of Glamorgan. The grant enabled us to invest in these activities and really show that as a food partnership, we are dedicated to empowering our local communities through real, on-the ground positive impact to the local food system,” adds Louise.

 “Perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of the festival is that it helped the partnership develop connections with local food champions, who will be able to collaborate on future iterations of the festival. Using learning from the festival held in 2022, we are now planning our next festival for summer 2023, which will take the form of a Food Trail to bring in involvement from local producers in the Vale.”

Being part of My Food Community has enabled Louise to grow and mature as a leader and to utilise her new skills within her local area.  Using the Leadership Action Grant to develop the Food Vale Festival and the new Food Trail has also greatly benefited the community, encouraging people to engage with food-related activities and to build and enhance food citizenship throughout the Vale of Glamorgan.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the My Food Community programme delivered by Food For Life Get Togethers, please click here.

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