Dig for Sustainability – learning from the older generation

The Cambridge Global Collective set up a project to explore how their wartime heritage relates to current concerns about sustainability and climate change. The project, based at the Harambee Centre, worked with a core group of 30 young people to discover how the World War II ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign could influence current-day practice.

Whilst this project was undertaken by a youth group, it could be replicated within schools or after-school clubs.

What did they want to achieve?

Dig for Sustainability logo
Dig for Sustainability logo

The focus of the project was on what young people could learn from the sustainable living habits adopted during the Second World War that they could apply to their lives today. It was intended to raise awareness of issues around food production and its relationship with health, recycling, water and climate change and to encourage young people to make small changes towards sustainability in their own lives.

How did they set about doing this?

The project was inspired by the Royal Parks’ ‘Dig for Victory: War on Waste’ initiative, in which a World War II allotment was recreated in St James’s Park, London. Funding was obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund and project leaders gave presentations about the initiative in local schools. From this, a group of young people from Years 7, 8 and 9 (ages 11-14) at Chesterton Community College were recruited to participate in the project. The project managers from Harambee ran lunchtime sessions at the school once a week to explore issues relating to food, including where ingredients come from, food miles, cash crops, food waste, water use and climate change. After school, the group worked on a local allotment growing their own food, supported by members of the established Global Collective and other young people recruited through a local volunteer website.

Dig for Sustainability poster
Dig for Sustainability poster

A visit by the whole group to the World War II allotment reconstruction in London provided inspiration and information about the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to combat wartime food shortages by using parks and gardens for food production. The group also learnt about the wartime need to recycle and re-use everything, from composting to mending clothes. This led to a visit to a local waste and recycling plant to find out how household waste is dealt with now. Links were made with local elders who had lived through the war and who were filmed by members of the Global Collective talking about their family’s efforts at food production and re-use, from vegetable growing to saving food scraps to feed pigs and chickens kept at the end of the garden.

The Global Collective worked with a film-maker to document the whole project which has been edited into a 15-minute DVD, enabling them to share their own learning with others. “The Global Collective are passionate about global issues and climate change. Making a documentary seemed like the perfect way to explore how to live efficiently and with consideration for the planet” (Global Collective member). Copies of the DVD have been sent to local schools and workshops were run in primary schools around the themes of the project. You can view the film here:

How well did they achieve their aims?

Harvesting the produce
Harvesting the produce

Understanding of the processes and issues involved in food growing and waste management and awareness of the need to waste less were certainly raised among those participating in the project. One participant commented that when you’ve grown something yourself, you appreciate the work that goes into producing the things you buy in the supermarket. The production of the DVD has meant that a much wider group of children and young people have also learnt from the project. The collaboration between the school students, young people in the Global Collective and volunteer group, older people from the community and primary schools has created inter-generational connections and promoted social cohesion.

Find out more

Download this case study as a PDF: Dig for Sustainability case study

Teaching resources: Find teaching resources around the topic of Sustainability

With thanks to Will Essilfie, Clayton Lavallin and Peter Last. Case study © Think Global. Pictures © Harambee Centre. Researcher: Gillian Symons.

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