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Dig where you stand. You are not alone! - a blog from Doorways
Posted by : Martin Crabbe

The first time that Dan Raven-Ellison pitched the London National Park City concept to me I loved it. As a geographer I already had a passion for National Parks and as an adopted Londoner this just seemed perfect! And the the more I though about it, the more I loved it. In this blog for our ‘Local Well-being doorway’, I want to discuss why I think the London National Park City concept is so important during the current COVID-19 crisis.


Thanks to Dan, along with many incredible others, London became, officially, the world’s first National Park City last summer. It’s catchphrase, ‘Let’s make London greener, healthier and wilder’, says pretty much everything, although I like to think that the words left unsaid are …”for all the people of London.”

People are front and centre in this vision for London. It is not simply a greening project but one that values the complex dynamics in a city and argues that green and wild is better and healthier for us all. During this current COVID-19 crisis our well-being is inextricably linked to our locality. We can no longer simply travel to the areas we consider the ‘best’ areas of  London. We can’t get on a train to Brighton. Our local area is it. For all of us.

The huge disparity of wealth and poverty across London means that our experiences of Lockdown will be very different for each of us.  For many years now I have used the catchphrase ‘Dig where you stand’ which I adapted (with permission!!) from the inspirational Alistair McIntosh’s book ‘Soil and the Soul’. Alistair’s view is simply that we are where we are, and it is there that we need to start digging. I love this. Obviously this message may be easier to digest for some than others but it is no less true for us all.


Just over a year ago my wife told me about a charity called GoodGym. They very much take the ‘dig where you stand’ approach. They have three pronged approach to community engagement, with running involved at every stage (pre-COVID!):

  • Missions: They run to help older people with one-off tasks they can no longer do alone, such as clearing gardens or changing light bulbs.
  • Coach runs: They run to make social visits to isolated older people who they call our ‘coaches’ because they motivate us to keep going.
  • Group Runs: They run in groups to do physical tasks for community organisations.

I have run with GoodGym since January 2019. I have met some incredible volunteers along with my ‘coach’, Josephine, who I visit for a chat once a week (currently done by phone call). Most of our ‘group runs’ involve gardening in churches, forest schools or community centres (although now we do them by video call in our living rooms or back gardens!). And I genuinely enjoy it! It’s improved my running, I have met some great people and I feel that I am more invested in my local area. Literally, digging where I stand.

The London National Park City has loads of examples of how people of all ages have become engaged in their local area. This is what I love about it. It is real. It’s not just a campaign. It is transformatory, not just in the way we think of cities but in our own engagement in them.


Schools have a crucial role to play in developing this London National Park City. Imagine if every school in London was sustainable! What an impact would this have on the wider city? And there are already so many great teachers, staff, students, parents and connected people doing amazing sustainable schools work across London. Whether it is running a school kitchen garden, developing innovatory curriculum responses to the climate emergency, actively reducing air pollution outside the school gates, installing solar panels, sharing good practice with peers in other schools (locally or internationally), leaving the car at home and walking instead and so on. I see all of these as examples of practical kindness that communities need if they are to function well. I will admit that sometimes, in normal school life, you can feel like you’re fighting a lonely battle! And the usual business of schools can become overwhelming. This is where we need to realise we are not alone and to be inspired by others.


That is why a group of us decided to establish the London National Park City Schools Network. It explicitly aims to support the wider National Park City campaign but very much from a schools perspective. It doesn’t matter what approach to sustainable schools you prefer or what your role is.


The network is led by the amazing Cath Prisk – an inspirationally, outdoorsy person if ever there was one! But its very much a collective effort and our aims are simple, namely:

  • dig where you stand – you can have the biggest impact on London National Park City from your own school and its local area.
  • you are not alone – we will keep you up to date with loads of inspirational projects, ideas and opportunities across the city’s schools.

Whilst we are in Lockdown we may not be able to participate in our usual practical responses to sustainable schools work. We can, however, reflect on what we have done so far and what we actually can do now. And we can consider our post-Lockdown dreams. And may I take this opportunity to recommend that in the meantime, at the very least, you sign up for the London National Park City Schools Network. Imagine if we had a network that covered every school in London. And imagine if every one of those schools had even just one person in them that was trying to make their school more sustainable…


About Doorways:

London Sustainable Schools Forum are launching their most reflective project yet: Doorways. The Doorways project aims to support schools and those that work with schools to consider how to develop a more sustainable approach. They will be promoting great free school resources based around the following eight themes (doorways): air; energy; food; local well-being; school grounds; travel and traffic; waste; and water. These categories are a ‘mash-up’ of ideas from previous sustainable schools work and the eco-schools categories. The specific ‘doorways’ are less important that the idea behind them. Namely, that it's more important to get started on one area and do it well (i.e. as sustainably as possible) than worry about ticking every box.


Please visit their website page here.



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