Freshly-baked puffed flat breads, photography by Saima Khalid

Blueprint Architects: The people daring to imagine a fairer food system in Tower Hamlets

Amid the climate and cost of living crises, the food and environment communities of Tower Hamlets have assembled as the Blueprint Architects to redesign how food is produced and consumed in Tower Hamlets.

When you reach for a loaf during the weekly shop, what do you consider? The grade of wheat used? Where the flour was milled? Whether the grain was grown organically? Yeah, unlikely. 

Like most of us, price is the factor we are most compelled to consider. And in Tower Hamlets, with high levels of child poverty, food prices skyrocketing and the increasing cost of living ever more pervasive, it’s not just our daily bread at risk. 

We are all told that the way our food is produced contributes significantly to climate change. However, living in one of the most food insecure boroughs, most of us can’t afford to think about individual climate food footprints, and we choose our weekly loaf based on its price tag. 

But, what if nutritionally rich, environmentally-mindful, culturally-relevant produce was available to everyone at prices we could afford?

Introducing the Blueprint Architects, a movement of Tower Hamlets residents that is envisioning a ‘blueprint’ system where the food consumed is grown, harvested and distributed fairly for both its communities and the environment.

Food insecurity impacts poorer residents, working-class communities and people of colour the most severely, according to JustFACT, the umbrella network that formed the Blueprint Architects. Over the next five years, Just FACT will support the creation of new projects within Tower Hamlets that realise a food system that is supportive of these communities, which the Blueprint Architects will help select and inform.

The Blueprint Architects is a growing group of 20 to 30 activists and organisers, community gardeners and cooks, residents and local researchers from Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Poplar and Bow, who are pioneering alternative systems of food production in Tower Hamlets.

A key principle of Blueprint Architects is to build upon existing local knowledge, which they do by facilitating group discussions.

‘A significant issue in Tower Hamlets is the lack of agency people feel in relation to food,’ explains Laurium Mompelat, Blueprint Architects’ coordinator, ‘which is why recognising how much wisdom local people hold is particularly important.’

The Blueprint Architects gather as a group to conduct research of Tower Hamlets’ current food system. Coordinated by Mompelat, the Architects share their stories of food insecurity and efforts to change this, identifying the collective experiences of Tower Hamlet’s residents. 

One Blueprint Architect embodying an alternative food system is Andy Philpott who volunteers at St Hilda’s Food Cooperative in Bethnal Green, a weekly shop that provides fresh, local and organic produce at more affordable prices. Not driven by profit, Philpott explains the shop is ‘an affordable lifeline to so many people providing a diverse local community with healthy and nutritious food that is plastic-free.’

Then there’s Rachel Hippolyte, the Education Manager at Spitalfields City Farm where she connects children to the land. She brings her experience of working with Tower Hamlet’s young people to the Architect group. 

Poplar resident who has also joined Blueprint Architects is Honufa Islam, a community gardener, cook and volunteer from Poplar. She has campaigned in the past for 12 garden beds to be placed in her East End estate where mangoes, avocados and the Bangladeshi gourd, kodu, bloom. While the infertile soils that kodu enjoy might be easy to find in London, the copious amounts of sun required for growth certainly is not. Honufa now shares her planting expertise and residential ‘rights to grow’ with other Blueprint Architects. 

Similarly, Alannah Shafiq looks after a mushroom farm in Poplar and is excited to bring their knowledge of fungi to the group. They give workshops on how mushrooms can help people redesign food-growing systems. 

“Seeds of Revoluton” is the Blueprint Architect’s first publication of their research, which identifies the collective experiences of Tower Hamlet’s residents.

A key finding is a need for community access to land. Like gold dust in London, gardens are not typical of East End homes. Growing cucumbers in our already cramped kitchens isn’t an option for a lot of us. Access to land is an important way to provide the community with food security.

Several of the Architects are already providing public access to land and growing spaces. Limborough Food Hub, a community garden and kitchen in Poplar, is one of them. The Hub is organised by the Women’s Environment Network (WEN) and offers growing and cooking workshops to locals.

‘Limborough Hub over the last couple of years has become a refuge for joy and celebration… We want it to be people’s happy place where everyone comes to enjoy nature, good food and friendships, whilst thinking about and having conversations around the impacts of climate change’ says Shaheda Aziz, Co-ordinator of the Limborough Food Hub.

The second issue of “Seeds of Revolution” from the Architects will be published this coming summer. The report will include wider conversations within the borough, particularly with those who do not have English as a first language and are often excluded from decisions by policy experts. They are also planning an art installation to communicate their work with the broader Tower Hamlets community.

Tower Hamlets’ Blueprint Architects represents a community’s realisation that a radical re-imagining of our food systems has to happen to resolve our current poverty and environmental crises. By taking action into their own hands to ensure decisions are rooted in residents’ knowledge, that local needs are kneaded into policy, and that vulnerable communities are protected, the Blueprint Architects hope they have the answer.

‘If this action is taken seriously now, what could our food system be in 2050?’ asks Mompelat.

If you enjoyed this, you may like to read about the history of Paradise Gardens.

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Tabitha Stapely

Tabitha Stapely is the founder of Social Streets C.I.C, a not-for-profit media company using journalism to strengthen communities, particularly those in disadvantaged or neglected areas. Prior, Stapely was a writer and editor for national titles including The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, Elle and Red magazines.

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